You would only need a rather small part of the Sahara for this.
This is, for example, a picture that shows which part of Algeria receives enough sunlight to provide the whole of Europe. File: Saharaenergie. png-Wikimedia Commons
It must be said that, of course, you still have to take care of that energy and that it is electric energy and, for example, no fuel for airplanes.But it shows that there are more than sat free photons descending. The problems are therefore technological in nature. The fuel is free.
Basically though.But there are some practical problems. First, there must be power cables to move the energy to the places where it can be used. Then there is the maintenance. The panels can be covered by sand from sand storms, rival gangs (Boko Haram and such) can destroy panels and cables. And repairers need an armed escort, because of the risk of kidnapping. It is more convenient to place the panels near the users, to keep transport losses as small as possible.
Solar panels in the desert is a bad idea for several reasons.Not only does it cost extremely many resources to place all those panels, maintain, etc. It also supplies direct current and which is only about short distance to move.
A better idea is the mirrors that bundle the light and use that beam to boil water.That produces power and that is powerful enough to build high voltage that is strong enough to move across the Mediterranean to where the need is in Europe.
Unfortunately, there are all obstacles both politically and practically.In the end, the cost of one kilowatt is often leading and yet it is still not possible to get it so low that the solar power in the Sahara yields a return.
Our most beautiful opportunity as humanity is currently ITER.A test for a power plant that should generate a positive return from nuclear fusion. If those tests succeed in 2023 and then that will change everything. Nuclear fusion is clean, safe and has no polluting end product and does not produce CO2. The only challenge is to generate a temperature of more than 20 million degrees Celsius.
Unfortunately, outside the transport of electricity, it is too hot in the Sahara.Because of the heat, the panels lose almost their entire return!
Solar panels in the Sahara would be a great source of electrical energy.The problem is how do you get this electrical energy to Europe or the middle of Africa. Transport of electrical energy at great distances gives great losses.
If we were to stop a large part of the Sahara full of solar panels, would this be a good source of energy to deliver electricity to most of the world?
No.This is an idea from the realm of Fabels.
All solar panel (photovoltaic) installations are:
Hard fact-no installation of solar panels has succeeded in closing a single coal-fired power station as well.
One of the first reasons behind this is relatively simple: the sun is not always shining.The second reason behind this is that the energy density is very low; Per square metre the solar radiation is modest (luckily).
Some argue for storage as a solution; You take solar energy, store it when the sun shines and use it when that is not the case. The big problem with this is that no storage expert (I’m myself one), even on paper knows how this should be, and time is running out.
Another approach to solar energy (that would be the Desertec concept) is the thermal option, where direct sunlight is concentrated in one place.The heat thus produced is used for making steam, and this is used to propel a steam turbine, just as it happens in a fossil plant. Below is an example of this technology:
This is the Crescent Dunes project, about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas.
The ground is studded with more than 10,000 mirrors at the size of a garage door, each of which must be individually set to reflect the sun on a central tower. Although this seems to be a very serious installation (and is),
in 2018, this installation produced only 0.005% of U.S. electricity consumption.
In other words, there are a thousand of these installations needed to produce only 5% of us electricity consumption.Because there is a cost plate of one billion dollars attached, that is a real problem.
This plant stores energy in the form of hot salts, which means that energy can be delivered up to ten hours after nightfall.Unfortunately, if it is cloudy the next day, a fossil backup is still needed!
When we talk about photovoltaics, the analysis does not improve. Solar panels are only twenty years old.So if we put a billion solar panels in the Sahara, (for example in southern Algeria), we have to replace all these panels for 20 years.
That means that 140,000 panels need to be replaced per day, for the rest of civilization.
The energy to create, transport, install and recycle these panels must also come from somewhere.
In addition, a billion solar panels supply only about 300 GW (GigaWatt), which is enough for a number of large European countries, but so only when the sun shines!Storing energy on this scale is a totally unfeasible idea, so what happens if the sun does not shine?
All in all, this is a project that belongs in science fiction.
Another point is that of materials.As described above, we need to replace 140,000 panels per day. They have to be made. In addition, the transport of such great capabilities is something humanity has never endeavoured to do. Only the cables that are required will require huge amounts of copper. In addition, there is a huge waste problem resulting from the mining that is needed for this.
Luckily there is one clean, quite expandable, durable, very energy-dense solution: nuclear power.
For the time being, water-cooled reactors will continue to dominate as they exist.The more advanced fast breeder reactors are promising (only Russia has these currently) promising, but another element, thorium can be the real long term (50 years +) solution. Fortunately, more and more serious parties recognise this.
Fact: Nuclear energy is both cleaner and safer than solar energy.
This is actually excellent news; We have a realistic, economical way out!
Our grandchildren can have access to about the same amount of energy we have now!At the same time, we can make sure that the planet we live in is not radically altered.
The only thing we have to do is expand nuclear globally at the same rate as in the early Eighties was achieved by only a handful of countries.See chart below, in which the yearly production of all nuclear reactors of the world is shown. The red arrow could be completely realistic, as more countries now have reactors, so that growth could be faster.
Let’s compare this with the last twenty years:
A smaller share of global electricity demand is now generated with CO2-free sources than in 1997!
It is clear that we are on the wrong path with sun and wind.
It is a number of factors.
-Which part of the world?
-Which part of the Sahara?
But basically yes, solar energy is already a very strong source of renewable energy and on that scale you can do a lot with it.
The art is mainly storing the energy. Tesla is now making a lot of progress in this area, but it is getting harder. Moreover, coming decades will come even more inventions that will make solar energy cheaper and save easier.
So the answer is perhaps, but in the future?Yes, we can arrange that.
Why not place a solar panel in space and transport the energy via radio waves to Earth?We are right a little shade. If we melt that above the polar caps that are also less fast.
Here are already quite a few answers posted that cover the practical aspects (transportation, storage of energy, cost, ecological impact…).
Another great aspect is political stability.Already today a large part of our energy comes from parts of the world that do not excel in political stability. And often this source of energy is even the co-cause of political instability or (and this is a dangerous ethically) desirable form of government.
The Sahara would not be an exception here.Do we really wish our energy to be further dependent on regimes and conflicts somewhere far away?