Build Solar Where the Sun Shines

Desertec Director Thiemo Gropp in a recent interview:

Our ideas demonstrate how we can make a global transition to renewables by harnessing renewable sources of energy where they are at their strongest. In the best locations, renewable power plants and wind farms can produce more power and can therefore replace fossil fuel generation more quickly for less money. This power can then be transported to the centers of demand by using High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission. HVDC can transport electricity generated from renewables over long distances with losses of just 3 percent per 1,000 kilometers. If the resource is good enough, it more than justifies the investment in transmission.

This is a very simple thing to understand. If you get twice the electricity per kW of capacity, paying ten percent in transmission loss still gets your cost down by close to 50 percent.

And if you pay nothing for land use, that reduces costs by at least about the same factor as the transmission costs increase it, except if you’re talking about Japan, where the cost of using land for a solar project alone can amount to between 4 and 8 yen per kWh. In that case, using a desert area would reduce cost radically even without better solar resources.

The Desertec catchphrase is about the size of the resource. “Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.” That’s not bad.

But “Build solar where the sun shines” may be even better. The most important aspect is not the size of the potential. The most important thing is actually getting things done. That’s what Thiemo Gropp is talking about in the interview above, and that’s what should be the central message. Get double the energy for the same investment. Get things to speed up somewhat.

Eventually, all energy will come from renewable sources, and a large part of that from solar. The trick is getting it done fast enough to prevent a global meltdown.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

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