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Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than all the people in the world consume in a year. The DESERTEC Concept will allow most people in the world to access solar and wind power from the energy-rich desert areas. By using High-Voltage Direct Current transmission lines (HVDC), it is possible to transfer power with losses of no more than 3 percent per 1,000 kms. Given the relatively high intensity of sunlight in desert regions and the relatively small variations between summer and winter, the benefits of generating electricity in desert regions will more than outweigh the cost of long-distance transmission. More than 90% of the people in the world live within 3000 km of a desert and may be supplied with solar electricity from there. Compared with photovoltaics (PV), Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Plants (CSP-Plants) have the advantage that solar heat may
be stored cheaply and efficiently so that CSP plants can generate power at night or on cloudy days.
Also, gas or biofuels may be used as a stop-gap source of heat when there is not enough sun. These things mean that CSP plants may deliver power on demand whenever it is required. That kind of ability to respond flexibly to peaks or troughs in demand is invaluable in helping to maintain the stability of power grids. Thus CSP plants can reduce the need for such wasteful and inefficient practices as keeping coal-fired plants on "spinning reserve“ between
peaks in demand.
Solar-thermal power plants have been in use commercially for several
decades in the deserts of California (USA). The first plants have been
operating in Kramer Junction in California since the mid-1980s and
new plants have come on stream recently in Spain and Nevada. With
the right framework of laws and regulations, the development of CSP
plants may be ramped up fast. Also, HVDC transmission lines have
been in commercial use for decades and manufacturing capacity may
be expanded as required.
There are two important features of HVDC transmission lines that will
help win their acceptance by the public: Firstly, HVDC transmission
lines, by contrast with HVAC lines, produce hardly any electro smog.
Secondly, for a relatively small increase in cost compared with overhead
lines, it is possible to lay HVDC transmission lines under ground
or underwater, thus minimising their visual impact and speeding up
At present, the cost of power generated by solar-thermal power plants
including its transport via HVDC transmission lines amounts to 10 to
20 euro cent per kilowatt-hour – depending on the location, technology
and form of operation. However, these costs will drop significantly
with economies of scale and refinements in the technologies. If environmental
and hidden costs are properly accounted for, it is likely that
electricity from CSP plants is already cheaper than electricity from
coal-fired or nuclear power plants.
Desertec Red Paper (1,500 kb)