back to article Giant solar plants in Negev could power Israel's future

A series of solar energy power stations in the Negev could supply all of Israel's power needs - or, if you wanted to be really ambitious, you could supply all of the world's electricity needs with the aid of slightly under 10 per cent of the Sahara. So says Professor David Faiman of Israel's Ben-Gurion University, man with a …


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  1. Mike Parr

    Perhaps I'm missing something here

    There are three types of PV: moncrystalline (expensive but high performance), multi-crystalline (cheaper but still good) and amorphus (crap performance but cheap). Nano is (I think) going the amorphous route - I'm intrigued with respect to the claimed efficiency (60% gee! and I thought amorphous was only good for 6%).

    The Israeli's may be better sticking to solar i.e. genrate heat, and use it to power steam turbines - main benefit - could store the heat and use at night.

  2. Stu

    Lets do some v.basic maths . . .

    Wikipedia claims the sahara is 3.5million sq miles.

    So you're talking about fitting 350,000 square miles of the desert with Solar power collectors. Okee, should be done by tomorrow lunch time then. Jeez!

    That would still class as being the biggest single engineering undertaking probably by a factor of 1000:1!!!!

    But regardless, I'm all for free energy (not that it'll be free to us), Solar energy r00lz.

    At least its an option!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Hate to rain on anyone's parade...

    But I don't think ultra-thin photovoltaic cells or polished mirrors are likely to fare well in a Saharan sandstorm.

  4. Andrew Heenan

    Time To Make Peace First?

    Electricity storage, even on a small scale, is pretty inefficient and expensive. Doing it for a country is a pretty naive suggestion, even from a scientist.

    'Twould be much more efficient to build an alliance of nations around the globe, to maintain a constant supply; even though transmission would also involve some waste.

    It would, at least, be possible.

    "Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!" - Bring Back The Sixties, All Is Forgiven!

  5. Steve Evans

    Anyone else see a problem...

    So 10% of the Sahara turned into a solar power plant... Ummm.

    Am I the only person here who knows what happens to a glass panel when it's been in a sandblaster?!

    Even with out that, the cleaning bill just to remove the dust after a storm would be terrifying!

    And of course with 350,000 square miles of solar panels to protect, you just know some little toe-rag is gonna sneak over at night and nick the copper wire.

  6. Nick Kew

    Can biology do a better job?

    Alternative proposal: pump huge volumes of seawater into the desert and grow algal blooms. Big carbon-sink cum non-destructive biomass source.

    Pub-bore thinking at

  7. brainwrong


    Even if you did generate all the worlds electricity in the Sahara desert, it's another ball game to distribute the power to where it's needed without losing it all.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    No problem

    If you're covering 350,000 square miles with solar panels, then most of them could be a very long way from any exposed sand.

    And who's to say that sucking up half the energy that falls on an area the size of France and Germany combined won't muck up the climate so much that it starts raining there anyway to wash the sand off again...

  9. Alex D

    Nano Solar!?

    I wish their promises would come true... But they are only slightly more legit than Moller and the flying car!! Read up on the CEO... 99% hyperbole!

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  11. Anonymous Coward

    No, Lars

    Storing electricity is _not_ the problem. Electricity is kind of like the most refined form of energy in that it's ridiculously easy to convert into all kinds of other forms of energy (rotational, gas pressure, chemical, potential energy of water etc) with excellent efficiency and even back with good efficiency. Hell, you can store it very easily directly (the things are called capacitors). It actually is finding a _source_ for the energy in meaningful quantities that is the fundamental problem. I guess we already know the source must be one of solar (the more direct the better), tidal, nuclear. If these guys find a way to make solar energy usable in the scale needed to replace fossil fuels then they are definitely doing something significant.

  12. E

    @Storing electricity

    UK used to have huge inflatable tanks for storing coal-gas. You could store electricity by pumping water up into reservoirs during the day and running it through turbines at night.

    (Or you could drive electric motors to lift big bins full of sand high in the air and let them drop at night to drive generators. This is if you are in the middle of the Sahara.)

    It's really really simple:

    electric -> potential -> kinetic -> electric

    day time -> night time

    Some nay sayers will point out the energy lost in this cycle to friction etc. Really, though, so what? It is a cycle that will work, we know how to do hydro power very well, and it would be cleaner than the current hydrocarbon regime, and, hey, sunlight is free! Over time we would learn how to make it more efficient.

    Sometimes it makes sense to just shut up and do it. This is one such case.

  13. Cameron Colley

    Won't someone please think of the terrorists!?!?

    Aside form the obvious problems of people trying to steal the copper and other materials associated with the plant -- isn't the world's biggest solar power plant going to be a very obvious target for terrorism?

    You can't use extra-thick concrete to cover solar panels as you could a nuclear power station, and the very size would surely mean they would be hard to secure and easy to find?

    Personally, I don't believe the "Terrorists will kill us all!!!" hype -- but I'm surprised the Israelis don't.

  14. Tim


    If you're going to cover 10% of the Sahara in Solar farms I'm assuming that cost is not object, so you don't need storage, you need 5% of the Sahara covered and the remaining surface area can be split over New Mexico and somewhere around the Philippines. Conect them all up with either a Super conductor (which would require <90K temperatures) or a very very long CNT bundle which would act as a Balistic conductor. This way you'd have 24 hour electicity where ever.

    (Making the crude approximation that energy requirements of each part of the world are the same...some redistribution of farms might be needed to factor in China).

    If that doesn't work treat it like Nuclear and have the excess energy pump water behind a damn and release it when needed. Unfortunately with such a large amount of enery needing to be stored this might cause daily tidal waves.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't help but wonder... long it would take for a bunch of educated beyond their intelligence greenies to start sniveling about "wrecking the pristine environment" of damned desert and block construction.

  16. E

    @ Cameron Colley

    Well, if you stop doing anything because of the terrorists, I'd conclude that the terrorists have won.

    Hey, Somolia built itself a lovely pharmaceuticals back in the early 90's and a couple of years later the Americans bombed it. AFAIK, the Somolian gov't fixed and carried on. So much for terrorism.

  17. Kurt Guntheroth

    solar and terror

    Suppose you're a terrorist. You are standing at the gate of the biggest solar power plant in the world, covering 550,000 square miles. If you can carry 75lb of low yield explosives on your back, how long will it take you to blow up the whole thing? And how will you evade the guys who come looking for the minute power dropoff with each blast you set off? Solar isn't like nuclear. It's distributed. A decently designed plant need not have any major failure points.

  18. Chris McKinnon

    Lanuch loops

    If you want to store energy during the day and release it at night (and you have the resources to build 550,000 square miles of solar collector) why not build a bunch of launch loops? Then you get cheap space launches out of the deal too.

  19. John Angelico

    @solar and terror

    "Solar isn't like nuclear. It's distributed."

    Finally we get an intelligent contribution to the debate! :-)

    All the thinking about this so far goes: make large collection systems, then figure out how to a) store and b) distribute the results without losing the lot.

    Apart from cloud/rain of course, solar energy falls upon the entire planet (the poor, ailing, groaning planet) evenly across the average 24 hour period, or in Douglas Adams' terms, per diurnal anomaly.

    Wouldn't it be better to distribute the collectors around the world and put them close to the users of the power? How about building them into our roads, and all our building surfaces - both domestic and commercial? Then we only have to worry about local imbalances (like a power-intensive industry or business cf many house roofs in residential areas), instead of world-wide imbalances and large scale transmission/storage losses.

    If we go this way, instead of investing in large-scale transmission, we can concentrate on a) reducing the cost of localised collection and b) equipping all buildings with two-way electricity feeds - both outgoing and incoming - with a reversible meter (pay only for what you drag off the system, get equal credit for what you put back in).

  20. dr johnny

    yall are nuts

    10% of the just a figure.

    no one is proposing to supply the worlds power from the sahara.

    secondly, sand storms, dust, etc would not significantly effect the glass or voltaics.

    thirdly, solar power and wind power WILL most likely power 20% of the world in the next 20 years.

    dr johnny

  21. dr johnny

    60% of 6%

    they are referring to 60% efficiency of current technology..which is about 5 to 6%.

    60% of 6%...this is the numbers used in their guess-tamation estimate.

    10% of the desert is just a fields would be spread all over the world where needed.

    they are just trying to make a point.... about the size needed to supply the world.

    use some common sense folks.

    dr johnny

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Storing solar energy

    This is how it goes. During the day we electrolise water to generate hydrogen. During the night we use the hydrogen in a fuel cell to genrate power. It is easier to store hydrogen than power in a battery. You can also use the hydrogen as fuel directly. This is all pretty inefficent, but hey! who cares, just cover more of the desert with PV cells, it wasn't doing anything anyway - in fact we might be able to grow mushrooms underneath.

  23. Derek Williams
    Thumb Up

    @@Storing electricity

    For instance a Pump Storage station?

    here's one in Ireland

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gaza electricity already comes from Israel...

    60% of the electricity already comes from Israel, from the plant in Ashkelon. And here's a coincidence - for all the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel, none have come close to the power plant.

  25. Chris G

    Not yet!

    As of a scientific press release I read yesterday the current best efficiency of any type of PV is 40,7%, so we are looking at a 30% plus increase on the guesstimate for required area if it never gets any better. Almost certainly it will improve , especially if there is a potential profit in it. As far as locating solar farms elsewhere then you have to factor in the different meteorological conditions for the area you propose, every where is different, the Sahara was probably chosen as an example because it tends to be quite sunny there . Not so much in many other places but mid summer even in the UK can give you nearly 1Kwh/sqM , at 40% efficiency you need a little over 12 square metres to boil the kettle in my kitchen in the 3 minutes it normally takes, however you look at it it is a lot of NASA quality PVs to make the daily tea requirement of the UK .The cost of photovoltaics needs to come down a lot before any of these large scale schemes can be put in place but as solar farming becomes more common place on an industrial scale that should happen. Energy storage is coming on in leaps and bounds with so many different technologies being developed that it will become less and less of a problem. Try googling Large scale energy storage and have a look at a British co called Plurion amongst others. We will get there eventually but don't count on cooking this week's Sunday roast with solar power.

  26. Paul Murray

    metric, dammit!

    "One plant would produce 2 Terawatt Hours of electricity every year"

    Terawatt-hours? What the heck is wrong with petajoules? Why multiply everything by 3.6?

  27. Paul Murray

    Saharan Sandstorms

    If you covered 90% of the sahara with solar collectors, it would alter the climate of the region. Potentially, there would be no sandstorms anymore.

  28. Paul Murray
    Thumb Up

    What the world needs

    What the world needs is some process that uses solar power to convert CO2 and water into oxygen and energy-dense, transportable hydrocarbons, that works way better than photosynthesis.Should be simple enough, as we are not burdened with the millions of years of trial-and-error design that the plants are.

    My dream is to cover the entire australian desert with panels producing alchohol fom sunlight, air, andwater. What we don't drink, we can ship to asia. We'd all live like sheiks forever.

    The main engineering challenge is desalinating massive amounts of sewater and pumping it into the desert.

    And my imaginary alcohol-producing panels themselves.

  29. michael

    @ alcohol-producing panels

    1 spark and BOOM!!!!!

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