Saturday, September 29, 2018

How the Sahara Could Power the Entire World

Saharan desert (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Solar and wind farms, stretched across North Africa's Saharan desert and relying solely on existing technologies, could produce enough electricity to power the entire world.  (That amount of electricity approximates over 21 terawatt hours.)  As an added benefit these combined wind and solar arrays would also increase rain fail in the arid Sahel region thereby slowing the steady southern encroachment of the desert.

This was the conclusion arrived at by academic researchers using supercomputers.  Teams at the University of Maryland and University of Illinois modeled their results in a study financed in part by a Chinese government agency.  Their results were published in the prestigious journal Science (September 7).

Yes, we know it sounds far fetched.  And even perhaps too ridiculous consider.  But is it any crazier or more uneconomic than the two biggest nuclear construction projects currently underway in the U.S. and Europe?  Spending $25 billion or more to erect bespoke nuclear power generating stations (when a comparable gas fired facility could be built at a relatively small fraction of the cost) shows that regardless of economics, for those that the politicians favor, funds can often be found.

And it is not just new nuclear technologies that should be singled out for economic excesses.  Southern Company's recent attempt at building a truly clean coal electric power generating station resulted in the $4 billion Kemper County project in Mississippi.  That facility now only burns natural gas rendering large parts of the investment economically irrelevant.

But for sheer scale it is typically nuclear construction that provides the biggest numbers.  In this regard consider the proposed $20-$30 billion ITER nuclear fusion project.  The point?  We already spend huge sums to experiment with and develop increasingly carbon free power sources.  From a technological perspective the Sahara wind/solar project is practically "old school".  It relies exclusively on so called off the shelf, existing technologies.

The challenge as we see it, apart from financing, would come from the actual construction.  Giant construction projects in relatively inhospitable climates almost always pose a challenge.  This would be akin to building the Alaska pipeline or putting huge oil rigs in the North Sea or in Arctic waters.

Read more at How the Sahara Could Power the Entire World

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