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Solar Power From Deserts To Grow By 2050

May 26, 2009

According to a recent study, solar power plants in deserts have the potential to generate nearly a quarter of the world’s electricity by 2050.

The study, conducted by environmental group Greenpeace, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA) and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) SolarPACES group, said large investments in solar power could fight climate change and create new jobs.

“Solar power plants are the next big thing in renewable energy,” said Sven Teske of Greenpeace and co-author of the study.

Solar technology is suited for the cloudless regions of the Sahara and the Middle East.

According to the 28-page report, investments in concentrating solar power (CSP) plants will reach the $2.8 billion mark this year.  Currently, large installations are being constructed in California and southern Spain.

“Concentrating solar power could meet up to 7 percent of the world’s projected power needs in 2030 and a full quarter by 2050,” the report noted.

Those numbers assume a surge in investments to $29.5 billion a year by 2015 and $243 billion by 2050.  In that scenario, solar plants could generate 1,500 gigawatts of power by 2050.

The study uses more optimistic figures than business-as-usual projections by the Paris-based IEA.  The group, which advises rich nations, indicates that “by 2050 the penetration of solar power would be no higher than 0.2 percent globally.”

CSP, which differs from solar photovoltaics, uses arrays of mirrors to concentrate sun rays to provide energy to drive a power plant.

While solar photovoltaics work even on overcast days, CSP only works in direct sunshine.

“We now have a third billion-dollar technology alongside wind and solar photovoltaics,” Teske told Reuters.

According to the study, generation costs range from 21 to 32 cents per kilowatt hour and would fall to 14 cents by 2020.

Last year, CSP installations made only 430 Megawatts of energy.

“CSP plants can deliver reliable industry-scale power supply around the clock due to storage technologies and hybrid operations within the power plant,” said Jose Nebrera, president of ESTELA.

Image Caption: A parabolic trough is the most widely deployed type of solar thermal power plant. Image Courtesy Sandia National Laboratory

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