Once a year some concerned scientists will say "Wait a minute, the Sahara desert is, like, really sunny!" and declare that pollution is at an end. This time it's the Austrian International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, talking to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
The first part of the principle is sound: there really is an awful lot of sunlight in the Sahara, and while you'd have to cover an area the size of a small country to power another country, there's even more desert to go round. The problem is that it's always been easier to produce power than to transport it, and cable connections between Africa and Europe (which the scheme intends) capable of carrying the titanic power loads are no trivial task.
As technology progresses, there is no doubt at all that this project will become feasible - it just hasn't, yet. The outlined budget calls for an investment of seventy billion dollars, and you might as well ask for unicorns to ride to the power plant and an army of Heidi Klum clones to sexily wash dust off the panels. The National Ignition Facility only cost five billion, and it's been an immense struggle against committees, cuts and cost overruns. If you can build a miracle power system for seventy billion dollars, then you just can't build a miracle power system.
Not to mention the social screw-up factor: you tell people that you can provide limitless free power, and they'll say "Cool, as long as it doesn't inconvenience me in the slightest way." Whatever power-distribution grid they set up would become a relief map of lawsuits, entire counties signing off on the "We would rather burn dead animals for power than have a trunk cable where we can see it."
Solar power will be revolutionary, and it's nearly ready. But when your pollution-free plan begins with "Okay, I'll need the entire gross domestic product of Mongolia. For a decade", you may need a little more research.
Posted by Luke McKinney
Sahara Solar http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article5887597.ece
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