Sahara is the largest hot desert on planet Earth, expanding over a total area of 9.2 million square kilometers and having bright sunshine for more than 4000 hours per year which is practically almost every day. The annual average direct solar irradiation in the Sahara desert is about 2800 kW per square meter, so if we multiply this value with the total area of the desert the resulting energy amount will be mind-boggling to say the least. Considering all that, it is only natural for people to imagine the potential of harvesting all that energy that is literally enough to power half the world. Such a large scale project though can’t be implemented as simply as it is conceived, but the good news is that companies and universities are already looking deep into that prospect.
Sahara Solar Breeder Project
The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is an aspiring plan to research and investigate the potential of extracting silica right from the sand of the desert and then build solar power plants that will power up the next extension and building of the next units, and continue until a large part of the desert is covered with solar panels made right in the desert. The generated energy could then be transferred to state of the art power lines that would be submerged at a certain depth under the sand and cooled down to minus 240 degrees Celsius with the use of liquid nitrogen to keep temperature fluctuations at a minimum so that energy may be delivered hundreds of kilometers away from the source in a safe and reliable manner. This research project is a joint collaboration between the University of Oran in Algeria and the University of Tokyo and the research cost is estimated to be about $4.6 million and the total duration of the first phase is estimated to last around five years.
Desertec Industrial Initiative
Twelve huge companies from Europe including ABB, Siemens, and Deutsche Bank have also joint forces (and financial resources of up to 560 billion US dollars) to realize a plan to build solar panels in Sahara called the “Desertec Industrial Initiative”. The goal is to build enough solar parks to generate about 100 GigaWatts of energy on various locations of the Sahara desert and then distribute this energy to cover about 15% of Europe’s demand by 2050. The conglomerate has already signed partnerships and agreements with many of the involved countries and organizations, and despite the many drawbacks and obstacles faced, the project is still not canceled but the completion date of even the first phase remains uncertain at this time due to political instability in the area of interest.
This is the latest project to aspire for the development of solar panels in the Sahara desert. The TuNur company has already applied for a permission to build massive circular solar panels that will concentrate the energy on a collecting pole on the southwest part of Tunisia. These units will have a rated capacity of 4.5 MWatt each, with the first phase having a total energy generation capacity of 250 MWatt which is certainly a good start for the company that plans to deliver the generated energy through Malta to Italy and France. If this first part succeeds, TuNur will invest another 1.6 billion Euros to develop panel parks that will bring the total generation capacity to up to 2000 MWatt.