The freezing Himalayas, the heights of the Andes in South America, icy Antarctica – they may not bring to mind images of warming sun rays, but Science Daily reports they could be, “the new Saudi Arabias of solar energy.”
Until a recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology, most people probably associated hot and sunny regions, such as North Africa, with large-scale solar energy production, like the solar-thermal initiative “Desertec.”
But this new study, conducted by the Research Institute of Science for Safety and Sustainability in Japan, finds that key areas for solar energy production are actually in the coldest regions in the world.
The high elevations can provide more direct exposure to the sun due to thinner atmospheric conditions, MSNBC reports. Furthermore, colder temperatures actually "increase the operational efficiency of certain photovoltaic solar cells," which convert sunlight into usable electricity. For example, just 4 percent of one area of the Himalayas, or around 120,000 square kilometers, could power the entirety of China (based on 2007 electricity consumption data), the study details.
Naturally, there are limitations to installing solar farms on a grand scale in places like Antarctica and the Himalayas, where the actual cost would be determined by variables like available manpower, incentives from local governments and supplies.
The study’s lead author, Kotaro Kawajiri, told the Science and Development Network that other limitations could include “snowfall, loss of electricity during transmission and the efforts of installing PVs [photovoltaic panels] in such remote regions.” Still, he said, an Asian “Desertec” project would have a huge impact, since CO2 emissions are becoming one of the largest environmental problems in the world.
Yet, MSNBC’s John Roach says the risks may outweigh the rewards: “Big solar in Antarctica doesn't make much sense — at least with current technology — given the low population there and the fact that it's dark for half the year.” Still, he admits that for fast-growing regions like India or China, “overcoming those challenges may be worth the hassle,” especially given global climate change.
What’s your take on solar power from some of the coldest climates in the world? Is it worth the logistical complexities to tap into an efficient source of energy? Sound off here.