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Clean Power from Deserts - and other benefits too

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Every year, each square kilometre of hot desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplying by the area of deserts worldwide, this is several hundred times the entire current energy consumption of the world. It is possible to tap in to this cornucopia with the simple, proven technology of concentrating solar power (CSP): using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat and then using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators in the conventional way. Using CSP , less than 1% of the world’s deserts could generate as much electricity as the world is currently using. It is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity for 3000 km or more using highly-efficient ‘HVDC’ transmission lines. It has been calculated that 90% of the world’s population lives within 2700 km of a hot desert.

Apart from jobs, earnings and plentiful supplies of clean electricity, CSP offers some interesting benefits for host countries. Waste heat from CSP plants may be used for the desalination of sea water, a welcome bonus in arid regions. The shaded areas under the mirrors of CSP plants may be used for many purposes, including horticulture—with fresh water provided by the desalination of sea water. Land that would otherwise be unproductive may be used to grow food and other products.

These ‘DESERTEC’ ideas have been developed by the ‘TREC’ international network of scientists and engineers, including researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). TREC -UK is a group of volunteers working to make these ideas better known in the UK and beyond. Dr Gerry Wolff, coordinator of the group, is a former university lecturer in computer systems engineering. Further information about the DESERTEC concept may be found at www.desertec.org and at www.trec-uk.org.uk .

This talk is part of the Seminars on Sustainable Scenarios series.

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