subject: Solar power from Saharan sun could provide Europe's electricity, says EU
posted: Wed, 23 Jul 2008 04:36:31 +0100

Solar power from Saharan sun could provide Europe's electricity, says

· Huge £35bn supergrid would pool green sources
· Brown and Sarkozy back north African plan

Alok Jha, science correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday July 23, 2008

A tiny rectangle superimposed on the vast expanse of the Sahara
captures the seductive appeal of the audacious plan to cut Europe's
carbon emissions by harnessing the fierce power of the desert sun.

Dwarfed by any of the north African nations, it represents an area
slightly smaller than Wales but scientists claimed yesterday it could
one day generate enough solar energy to supply all of Europe with
clean electricity.

Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona, Arnulf Jaeger-
Walden of the European commission's Institute for Energy, said it
would require the capture of just 0.3% of the light falling on the
Sahara and Middle East deserts to meet all of Europe's energy needs.

The scientists are calling for the creation of a series of huge solar
farms - producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or
by concentrating the sun's heat to boil water and drive turbines - as
part of a plan to share Europe's renewable energy resources across
the continent.

A new supergrid, transmitting electricity along high voltage direct
current cables would allow countries such as the UK and Denmark
ultimately to export wind energy at times of surplus supply, as well
as import from other green sources such as geothermal power in

Energy losses on DC lines are far lower than on the traditional AC
ones, which make transmission of energy over long distances

The grid proposal, which has won political support from both Nicholas
Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, answers the perennial criticism that
renewable power will never be economic because the weather is not
sufficiently predictable. Its supporters argue that even if the wind
is not blowing hard enough in the North Sea, it will be blowing
somewhere else in Europe, or the sun will be shining on a solar farm

Scientists argue that harnessing the Sahara would be particularly
effective because the sunlight in this area is more intense: solar
photovoltaic (PV) panels in northern Africa could generate up to
three times the electricity compared with similar panels in northern

Much of the cost would come in developing the public grid networks of
connecting countries in the southern Mediterranean, which do not
currently have the spare capacity to carry the electricity that the
north African solar farms could generate. Even if high voltage cables
between North Africa and Italy would be built or the existing cable
between Morocco and Spain would be used, the infrastructure of the
transfer countries such as Italy and Spain or Greece or Turkey also
needs a major re-structuring, according to Jaeger-Walden.

Southern Mediterranean countries including Portugal and Spain have
already invested heavily in solar energy and Algeria has begun work
on a vast combined solar and natural gas plant which will begin
producing energy in 2010. Algeria aims to export 6,000 megawatts of
solar-generated power to Europe by 2020.

Scientists working on the project admit that it would take many years
and huge investment to generate enough solar energy from north Africa
to power Europe but envisage that by 2050 it could produce 100 GW,
more than the combined electricity output from all sources in the UK,
with an investment of around EUR450bn.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, welcomed the proposals:
"Assuming it's cost-effective, a largescale renewable energy grid is
just the kind of innovation we need if we're going to beat climate

Jaeger-Walden also believes that scaling up solar PV by having large
solar farms could help bring its cost down for consumers. "The
biggest PV system at the moment is installed in Leipzig and the price
of the installation is EUR3.25 per watt," he said. "If we could realise
that in the Mediterranean, for example in southern Italy, this would
correspond to electricity prices in the range of 15 cents per kWh,
something below what the average consumer is paying."

The vision for the renewable energy grid comes as the commission's
joint research centre (JRC) published its strategic energy technology
plan, highlighting solar PV as one of eight technologies that need to
be championed for the short- to medium-term future.

"It recognises something extraordinary - if we don't put together
resources and findings across Europe and we let go the several
sectors of energy, we will never reach these targets," said Giovanni
de Santi, director of the JRC, also speaking in Barcelona.

The JRC plan includes fuel cells and hydrogen, clean coal, second
generation biofuels, nuclear fusion, wind, nuclear fission and smart
grids. De Santi said it was designed to help Europe to meet its
commitments to reduce overall energy consumption by 20% by 2020,
while reducing CO² emissions by 20% in the same time and increasing
to 20% the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources.

High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines are seen as the
most efficient way to move electricity over long distances without
incurring the losses experienced in alternating current (AC) power
lines. HVDC cables can carry more power for the same thickness of
cable compared with AC lines but are only suited to long distance
transmission as they require expensive devices to convert the
electricity, usually generated as AC, into DC. Modern HVDC cables can
keep energy losses down to around 3% per 1,000km. HVDC can also be
used to transfer electricity between different countries that might
use AC at differing frequencies. HVDC cables can also be used to
synchronise AC produced by renewable energy sources.

* Origin: [green] revolution through evolution -

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