Can harvesting solar energy in the deserts end energy crisis?


Solar energy is definitely one of the cleanest forms of energy, which is available in all parts of world. While in the urban areas, energy developers often confront with land scarcity, places such as deserts are often barren and devoid of much human intervention. Moreover, deserts receive the maximum number of sunny days in a year, which them an ideal location to install large scale solar power plants. The open expanses of land and ample sunshine if coupled with today’s innovative solar energy technology, could, at least theoretically, put an end to the looming energy crisis. However, everything is not just as positive as it might look on the first glace. Let us get started with the positive side of harnessing renewable solar energy in deserts.

Desert Power

Deserts have mostly everything that is required to harness solar energy – ample land and sunshine. Apart from photovoltaic power plants, deserts also offer perfect conditions for solar thermal energy generating systems, which make use of all that heat to produce clean electricity. Statistics do prove our point here, with a research carried out by several groups around the world, stating that deserts have enough potential to produce 25 percent of the world’s electricity needs, which at present is somewhere in the line of 13.5 terawatts.

Besides offering the world a place where megawatts of renewable power can easily be generated, large scale solar installations will also be beneficial for the scant population of deserts as it will help create a lot of job opportunities, thereby aiding in the development of these rural areas.

Some proposals

Figuring out the potential of solar energy generation in deserts, several utility companies around have world have revealed proposals for large-scale solar power plants that can be set up in these arid areas. A few notable ones include:


  • Rice Solar Energy’s Solar Installation

Rice Solar Energy has a plan to transform the uninhabited part of Riverside County in California into a solar energy generating hub. The system will work on the principles of solar thermal energy generation and will make use of ample desert heat to melt millions of gallons of salt, which in turn will be used to produce clean energy.

  • Desertec Foundation

Desertec Foundation has been thinking of generating 100 gigawatts of concentrated solar power with multiple solar energy generating plants scattered all across northern Africa. However, the energy generated here won’t be used in the continent of Africa, but will be relayed to the more energy hungry European nations.

The Limitations

As we stated earlier, the conditions aren’t exactly as bright for the development of large scale solar power plants in these desert conditions. While the intense heat in deserts definitely is a boon for solar thermal power projects, it works just the opposite in case of photovoltaic power plants. Photovoltaic solar panels need light not heat to generate electricity. Moreover, the efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels drop dramatically when they get hot. Adding to the problem is the dearth of water sources in these areas, which can be used to cool solar panels.

Another drawback is sand, which not only affects photovoltaic solar power plants but also reduces the efficiency of solar thermal power plants. With dry windy conditions prevailing in these regions almost throughout the year, sand accumulates on the solar panels or heat reflectors to reduce the amount of energy that is generated or heat energy that is radiated. Moreover, even if somehow both these limitations are taken care of, power companies have to spend handsomely in setting up infrastructure to transmit all that power to power hungry countries, which are mostly thousands of miles away.

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