Keep it clean

Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy are reported as planning to export nuclear power plants around the world. But there is a good alternative to this dirty, dangerous and expensive technology.

I refer to ‘concentrating solar power’ (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat then using that heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station.

It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so electricity generation can continue at night or on cloudy days. The technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and now provides power for about 100,000 homes in the state. CSP plants are being planned or have been built in many parts of the world. Using CSP, less than one per cent of the Earth’s hot deserts could generate all the electricity the world is using.

It is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity for about 3,000km or more using highly-efficient ‘HVDC’ transmission lines. It has been calculated that 90 per cent of the world’s population lives within 2,700km of a hot desert and could be supplied with clean electricity from there.

In the ‘TRANS-CSP’ report from the German Aerospace Centre, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission.

That report shows how Europe can meet all its electricity needs from a variety of clean sources, and phase out nuclear power.

Dr Gerry Wolff

TREC-UK co-ordinator