A pyramid-scale solar power plant is well under way in Kuraymat, Egypt, and the 150 megawatt giant could prove to be a key indicator for the success of a much larger project such as the pharaohs could only dream of. That would be the international DESERTEC solar power network, which would rim northern Africa with solar and wind power plants capable of supplying solar energy to European markets. It’s an ambitious plan that rests on two key elements – the ability to collect solar energy on a massive scale, and the ability to transmit it.
As reported in Energy Boom, the Kuraymat plant will tackle the collection half of the equation. It will consist of 2,000 solar collectors covering 130,000 square meters. A solar thermal facility, it is designed to collect solar energy in the form of heat rather than directly converting it to electricity as is the case with photovoltaic cells.
DESERTEC and Solar Power
The DESERTEC concept is based on a factoid featured prominently on the organization’s website: “Within six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind receives within a year.” Though its broadly stated mission is sustainability, the DESERTEC concept also addresses the geopolitical vulnerability of fossil fuel supplies to Europe, particularly regarding its dependence on natural gas from Russia. As for petroleum, the U.S. military is predicting a “peak oil” supply squeeze in the near future that certainly won’t help matters much. Speaking of the U.S. we have a couple of deserts, too, so maybe it’s time we stoped pushing that same tired old fossil fuel line and start focusing on showing the Old World a thing or two about networking solar power on a mass scale.
Solar Dreams, Solar Reality
DESERTEC was conceived by Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC), a network of scientists, government officials and renewable energy experts founded in 2003 to push for a joint solution to global energy supply in the face of rising global population. In addition to wind and solar power, the concept also includes desalination facilities. Rather than projecting success from new solar technologies still in development, the concept relies on proven technologies that have been in use for quite some time. The reliance on tried and true tech appears to be paying off because DESERTEC picked up steam last year with a big cash infusion. DESERTEC still has its critics but then again so did other future-forward projects like the first Trans-Atlantic Cable. Hey, for that matter some people still think the moon landing was faked.
Image: Pyramid by S J Pinkney on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.