One of the coolest visions for solar energy we’ve ever seen comes from the “Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation” website (http://www.trecers.net/). They want to build an ultra high-efficiency DC (direct current) power grid across the deserts of the middle east and africa upwards throughout Europe including offshore windfarms. Here’s the heart of their plan, taken from their concept page (http://www.trecers.net/concept.html):
Trans-Mediterranian Energy Cooperation U.K.
“Satellite-based studies by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have shown that, using less than 0.3% of the entire desert areas of the MENA region, Solar Thermal Power Plants can generate enough electricity to supply current demands in EU-MENA, and anticipated increases in those demands in the future. In addition, it has potential to alleviate shortages of fresh water in the MENA regions. The trade winds of southern Morocco may be harnessed to generate additional supplies of electricity. Clean electricity can be transmitted via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines throughout EU-MENA with overall transmission losses that would be no more than 10-15%.”
What the TREC folks are referring to with the term “EU-MENA” is the regions of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The idea that the Saharan sunlight can power all of Europe is only half the story. This power can also be used to pump water from the Ubangi river in the north of the Congo basin northwards over (or through) the hills into the Lake Chad basin. New forests can grow in lands watered by pumps powered by the sun. And Lake Chad, like the Aral Sea (also ref. “Artic to Aral”), will be refilled.
TREC advocates solar thermal power, quite rightly pointing out that thermal energy can be stored in fluids and released 24 hours per day, not just when the sun is shining. But advances in photovoltaic energy may yield arrays consuming about half the space of solar thermal installations with lower costs for installation and maintenance. There are hybrid designs using photovoltaic thermal collectors that can achieve even higher efficiencies of cost and output per square foot.
It is in their faith in the eventual abundance of clean electric power, combined with their call for a revolutionary high-power DC transmission line (read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HVDC) that could use and reinforce existing grids, that makes the TREC folks inspiring visionaries. What a great project, and how else to power the world if you really want to lose the gas?