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Solar power stations in the Sahara


In just six hours of sunny weather, the world’s deserts are capable of producing more solar energy than the human race produces and consumes in one year from oil, gas, fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. By 2050 the world population is expected to reach 10 billion, so alternative sources must be introduced to cover the world’s energy needs. One of the most promising efforts is the giga-sized project of the Desertec Foundation, established in 2009 to try and produce electricity with the help of so-called solar-thermal parabolic power plants in the North African Sahara. The essence of the solar-thermal power plants is that the sun’s energy is collected by parabolic reflectors, and directed to heat storage tanks filled with water, special salts or oily solution. The steam, heated to several hundred degrees, drives the turbines, which produce electricity, which is then transmitted to the consumer via traditional transmission lines. Of course, the whole thing is a little more complicated than that, as, in part, instead of water they use oil, which retains heat better, meaning that even after sunset they can continue to produce electricity for up to 8 hours. The idea is extremely promising, even taking into consideration the fact that it currently costs 5-8 cents to produce 1 kilowatt of energy using wind turbines and 16-23 cents using solar-thermal techniques; these costs, however, are expected to be reduced drastically in the future. According to the calculations of the Desertec project, they could produce 15% of Europe’s energy requirements from a 2500 square kilometre desert power plant, and the initial set up cost, including transmission lines, would be some 400 billion euros.