As the push for clean energy shifts the global economy, one scientist’s proposal shows the potential for solar energy generation and how it can change the world.
- The Inflation Reductant Act and the proposed European Sovereignty Fund have set aside sizable subsidies for climate-change innovation and investment, helping to push global goals of radically reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
- Numerous proposals for clean-energy generation have been fielded, from extending the operational lifespans of nuclear reactors and scaling wind and solar power upward.
- By one expert’s calculation, it is possible to power the entire world by building a solar farm that covers 1.2% of Africa’s Sahara Desert.
- University of California, Berkley, Professor Dr. Mehran Moalem discussed the hypothetical idea in a Quora thread, answering a question about the potential of nuclear power replacing fossil fuels, but asserted instead that solar energy is the future.
Why It’s Important
The recent push for climate change legislation and the ongoing European energy crisis have highlighted efforts to rush clean-energy production and replace fossil fuels. Solar has a valuable place in the push for renewable energy, as the sun is a nearly unlimited energy source. The Sahara Desert is also a well-suited location for solar farms, given its heavy exposure to solar radiation.
“There is no future in other energy forms. In 20 to 30 years, solar will replace everything. There will still be a need for liquid fuels, but likely it will be hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water and that powered by solar,” he says.
“[The area necessary] is 43,000 square miles. The Great Saharan Desert in Africa is 3.6 million square miles and is prime for solar power. That means 1.2% of the Sahara Desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy. There is no way coal, oil, wind, geothermal, or nuclear can compete with this. The project cost will be about $5 trillion, one time cost at today’s prices without any economy of scale savings,” says Dr. Moalem.
Backing Up A Bit
The hypothetical proposal Dr. Moalem discussed is unlikely to come to full fruition. Covering over 1% of the Sahara Desert would likely prove ecologically destructive and intrusive to the local environment, although he has denied this possibility. “That is such a minuscule part compared to the total desert area in the world. Also, it will save vast tracts of land that are currently suffering from strip mining for coal and from contamination by acid rain.”
He does warn that large-scale resource mining for solar panels will create pollution and externalities.
A project of the scale Dr. Moalem theoretically proposes would be a massive construction project and is thus unlikely to be undertaken. However, smaller-scale versions of the project are viable. A UK-based company TuNar has been working since 2017 to build a 4.5 GW, 180 square kilometer, solar energy farm in Tunisia that would directly power 2 million European homes. A similar 400 billion euro project called the Desertec project was proposed in 2013 and never came to fruition.