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Solar power from the Sahara

Letter published in The Independent, 2009-02-28

In his article "The green movement must learn to love nuclear power" (23 February), Chris Goodall says: "Even concentrated solar power plants in the Sahara desert will need a lot of space – at least 15,000 sq kms." Recent calculations from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) show that an area of 16,129 sq kms in the Sahara, if covered with CSP plants, would produce as much electricity as is now being used by the whole of Europe. This is less than 0.2 per cent of the area of the Sahara.

Of course, no one is suggesting that one should meet all of Europe's electricity needs from the Sahara. In the scenarios described in the TRANS-CSP report from the DLR, CSP would be just one of a combination of renewable sources and nuclear power would be phased out. Compared with the situation now, there would be an overall reduction of imports of energy into Europe and there would be a greater diversity of sources of energy.

CSP plants are quick to build. The UK could begin to benefit from CSP imports quite soon, via the existing transmission grid. As quantities increase, the transmission grid may be upgraded by removing bottlenecks, by converting HVAC transmission lines to low-loss HVDC transmission lines, by building new HVDC transmission lines (some of which may be under the sea) and by installing smart electronics.

Dr Gerry Wolff CEng

Coordinator of DESERTEC-UK

Menai Bridge, Anglesey