Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Tantalizing Dream of Blanketing the Sahara in Solar Panels

But in Germany, Gerhard Knies—a particle physicist—was inspired to ask a simple question. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas: their energy flowed from the sun. It took a tortuous path through plants and animals that were buried for thousands of years to get to us. The radioactive uranium that fueled nuclear power plants was also forged as a trace byproduct of nuclear fusion in stars. Would it not be easier, cheaper, and cleaner to get our energy directly from the sun?

Knies did a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation and worked out that, in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more solar energy than the entire human race consumes in a year. The energy needs of the world could be met by covering just 1.2 percent of the Sahara desert in solar panels. Knies likely wasn’t even thinking about carbon emissions—just the fact that fossil fuels would one day run out—but climate change provides an even starker motivation for pursuing the project. And of course, it just seems so simple: Knies himself was frustrated about it, questioning, “Are we, as a species, really so stupid as to not make a better use of this resource?” https://goo.gl/HdgK74