sahara desert

  1. Energy
  2. Energy and Environment
  3. Land
  4. Planet
Busy? Try the speed read.

Big picture

  • If all sunlight received by Northern Africa converted into solar energy, it could power all of Europe more than 1000 times over.
  • Concentrated solar power (CSP) technology can use lenses and mirrors to store large amounts of solar heat. 
  • Tunisian transcontinental transmission of photovoltaic power (PV) and CSP prove this concept.
  • PV is more reliable for decentralized plants to power rural regions in Africa.

Between the lines

  • To better understand how a CSP plant works, check out the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert (link below)
  • Desert solar panels can improve climate conditions in the region.
    • Compared to sand, panels reflect lower amounts of heat to space.
    • The result: surface heating in the desert and cloud formation.
    • Changing the desert’s heat budget may increase rain, but too many panels can raise temperatures to an unproductive level. Panels are less reflective than desert soil. 

Questions to consider

  • Which companies/countries would fund the project? 
  • Who benefits most from affordable solar electricity, Africa or Europe? 
  • How can you export energy to nations inside and outside of Africa?

Why it matters

  • CSP can release energy overnight, creating a 24-hour source of energy.
  • CSP has a high initial set-up cost but has long-term advantages over traditional forms of energy generation such as hydroelectricity.

Bottom line The developing world has a unique opportunity to learn harsh lessons from 20th century economic development principles. Using natural phenomena like the Sahara Desert for solar energy or the Congo River for hydro, Africa can become the energy superpower of the future.

Dig deeper ➝ 2 min

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