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Letter: Desert solar power could scale up easily

Dr Gerry Wolff

17th February, 2010

Take away the subsidies from fossil fuels - and account for their carbon costs - and electricity from desert-based solar power will look like a no-brainer

Dear editor,

Thank you for your very welcome article about the Desertec concept: the generation of solar and wind power in desert regions and its transmission throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

It is true that, at present, CSP appears to be expensive. But fossil fuels and nuclear power are still receiving substantial subsidies. And electricity generators are still to a large extent able to treat the atmosphere as if it was a free dumping ground for CO2. Correction of those distortions in the market place for energy would create a very different picture.

It is predicted (in the MED-CSP and TRANS-CSP reports from the German Aerospace Centre) that, with economies of scale and refinements in the technologies, electricity from CSP will fairly soon become cheaper than electricity generated from fossil fuels and that CSP is likely to become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission.

Scaleability is not an issue. Each CSP unit is a self-contained module. The modules can be produced in their thousands or millions, like cars, wind turbines, TVs etc.

With high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission technology it is feasible and economic to transmit electricity for 3000 km or more. It has been calculated that 90 per cent of the world's population lives within 2700 km of a sunny desert and could receive 'desert' electricity from there.

An interesting point is that, in some respects, a transmission network is like a lake. If water is poured into one end of a lake and the same amount taken from the other end, it is as if the water had been 'transferred' along the length of the lake but without it being necessary for the water to travel all that distance. In a similar way, if 'desert' electricity is fed into the southern part of the European transmission grid, it can produce an immediate benefit for countries throughout Europe. As volumes increase, the transmission grid may be upgraded with HVDC transmission lines and smart electronics.


Dr Gerry Wolff PhD CEng
Coordinator of DESERTEC-UK


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