Can solar thermal power solve the worlds energy problems?

According to this link Europe uses 4,000 terawatts of energy but in the normally unusable deserts of North Africa and the Middle East 630,000 terawatts fall unused. If solar thermal plants covered the desert about the size of Austria it could power the whole entire world. The technology is cheap and includes an ability to store the energy for nighttime needs. If all this is possible why are Earth are we not employing this clean, cheap, abundent source of energy?

17 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    Solar thermal could do just that at affordable costs. Solar thermal can now produce electricity at as low as 8 cents a watt, and that would be improved by the economy of scale of mass production of the solar plant components.

    1% of the Sahara desert could power the whole world.

    1% of the deserts in the American southwest could power the whole country.

    And solar photovoltaic efficiencey is not stuck at 10% as someone answered. It is closer to 20%.

    And that efficiency is rapidly improving and the cost of making solar panels is falling just as rapidly. Solar panel industry experts say they are just a few years away from being at grid parity with coal and gas power plants.

    In fact, Nanosolar is already there, being able to produce solar panel complete systems for less money than it takes to build a coal power plant.

    And then there is the cost of the coal and the pollution from it.

    "Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.

    With a $1-per-watt panel,” he said, “it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems.

    According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said."


    Concentrating solar photovoltaic power plants and solar thermal power plants in the southwest should be a large part of our future energy system.

    Scientific American A Solar Grand Plan

    Shows how we could have 69% solar power in the U.S, by 2050, spending less in taxpayer dollars than we spent building the internet and high speed information highway, and in about the same 35 year time frame.

    And by spending about 1/8 as much annually over those years as we now give oil companies in subsidies.

    Some solar thermal companies.

    "I'd put my money on the sun & solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that." Thomas Edison, 1931

    Solar thermal plants can store heat, which will generate steam driven electricity at night.

    "Solar thermal power plants such as Ausra's generate electricity by driving steam turbines with sunshine. Ausra's solar concentrators boil water with focused sunlight, and produce electricity at prices directly competitive with gas- and coal-fired electric power."

    "All of America's needs for electric power – the entire US grid, night and day – can be generated with Ausra's current technology using a square parcel of land 92 miles on a side. For comparison, this is less than 1% of America's deserts, less land than currently in use in the U.S. for coal mines."

    Some of the arguments against wind and solar just don't make sense, like the argument that they are too intermittent, or not constant.

    "There are areas in Denmark and Germany who use more than 40 percent of their electricity from wind. From what I have read, they are less concerned about the intermittency than we are in the United States even though we aren't at 1 pecent yet. Why? Because we are told by the fossil fuel guys, hey, can't use wind, can't use solar, what about the intermittency. If wind gets up to 40 percent of the electricity we use and solar gets up to 40 of the electricity we use, the other percents of electricity we need can be made up from the fossil fuel plants that are still there. If they are run less at full power, they can last a long time. That can be your electricity `battery.'"

    "Using mirrors to focus the sun's heat on one of any various heat-to-electricity converters seems to have separated itself out as being the cheapest form of solar power."

    "Solar energy is the great leveler (unlike oil, which has been the great divider) between the haves and the have nots). No one owns the sun. It can't be drilled or mined or tied up in financial derivatives."

    (See Here Comes the Sun, February 17, 2007, Commentary,

    Green Wombat has several articles about solar thermal plants in California and Arizona. California has 9 small pilot plants that were built in the 80s and 90s. They produce 355 megawatts. Two larger plants have been approved for the Mojave Desert at 355 and 500 megawatts. Another is to be built near San Luis Obispo at 175 megawatts. Two or three others are in proposal stage, at up to 800 and 900 megawatts, for two of them.

    from the Scientific American article:

    "The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative—and one that can fuel transportation as well. Forward-looking thinkers should try to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders, about solar power’s incredible potential. Once Americans realize that potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a national solar plan"

    "The huge reduction in imported oil would lower trade balance payments by $300 billion a year, assuming a crude oil price of $60 a barrel (average prices were higher in 2007). "

    Together with Wind and other renewable, we can go to clean energy, while ultimately improving our economy as well.

    A Blueprint For U.S. Energy Security

    From the SetAmerican free document above.

    The total of all oil-related external or “hidden” costs of $825 billion per year. This

    total is nearly twice the figure authorized for the Department of Defense in 2006.

    To put the figure in further perspective, it is equivalent to adding $8.35 to the price

    of a gallon of gasoline refined from Persian Gulf oil. This would raise that figure to

    $10.73, making the cost of filling the gasoline tank of a sedan $214.60, and of an

    SUV $321.90.

    And then there's the $300 billion oil adds to our trade imbalance annually.

    You think that makes for a good economy?

    There is an unbelievable amounty of disinformation about the potential of renewable energy.

  • 1 decade ago

    Solar thermal energy CAN solve the energy problem. A good book on this is 'Solar Heat - It's Practical Applications' by Charles H. Pope copy right 1903. Yep the solution to our energy problems have been known for more than 105 years.

    Since governments and industries have chosen short sighted profit making goals and left the people of this planet with pollution and ruined economies, I personally would like to see individuals acquire and build their own home based power equipment.

    Solar heat devices in the deserts of north Africa also provide a cool zone behind them that could be used to, I believe reforest those lands or allow for food production. In personal experiments my 9' diameter solar concentrating dish the area in the shade has notably improved vegetation health and growth. Appears to be for 2 reasons, the aluminum surface allows condensation of atmospheric moisture which runs off onto the vegetation below and it reduced the rate of soil evaporation by lowering the temperature.

    Solar Heat is available from KnowledgePublications a link can be found on my website

  • 4 years ago

    solar thermal power plant can solve the problem, however, the big plan need more close cooperation between all parties: local government, EPC, suppliers, most important, suitable technology for development in desert.

  • 1 decade ago

    Where does the trillions of dollars needed to build these new solar thermal power plants come from?

    How do we get the power from north Africa to Europe, or from the US Southwest to the rest of North America, or the outback to coastal Australia etc...

    What do we do with the billion cars that are now useless since we don't have gas to run them, because all this new energy is electric?

    Why should anyone sacrifice now for some future utopia of free and abundant energy when their neighbor will just consume any resources saved by their sacrifice and prevent any progress in the end?

    Those are the sorts of questions that will lead you to the answer to your own question.

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  • 1 decade ago


    Not now anyway.

    Today the typical efficiency of solar panels is about 10%. And solar energy is inherently 50% efficient because of the rotation of the earth.

    Under ideal circumstances, about 1000 watts of energy per square yard strike the surface of the earth. When you do the math, you discover it would literally take enough solar panels to cover the state of Connecticut to run the entire USA's electrical grid on solar. But thats only after they figure out an efficient way of storing energy captured during the day for night time use, and hydrogen gas production is theoretically the best way to do that, but is only being done experimentally right now.

  • 4 years ago

    Yes.Solar therm power can solve the world energy problem to a certain extent.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    All those solar plants will divert the sun from the present ecology. Even in the desert there are plants and animals that depend on the sun's energy.

    Build nuclear or freeze in the dark.

  • 3 years ago


    Source(s): Solar Power Design Manual -
  • 1 decade ago

    Not familiar with the desert, are we? On top of the problems already listed by previous answers, a single sand storm would cover every solar array with sand, making them utterly useless. Rolling sand dunes would wreck the entire field...but good luck with that.

    (Enveloped by an Iraqi sand storm)

  • 1 decade ago

    well i think that solar power can solve most of the power problems we have...but the technology used for this is not popular and not at all cheap power can be used anywhere not only in the middle east or north africa...

    but the equipment for this , is not something that anybody could people cant really use it, till a solution is found for the financial part.

  • 1 decade ago

    The problem is converting it and delivering it where it is needed, NEITHER of which are really efficient with current technology.

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