How Africa can power the world

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Africa is home to most of the world’s available untapped resources, the continent has also recently seen a growth shift which has propelled the economy and still continues to drive change in the positive financial axis and the continent doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time as estimates project it’s GDP to be well over $29 trillion by 2050. Its safe to say that the future of Africa is  bright and there’s no stopping us now.

The 21st century would belong to Africa as the rest of the world would have a front row seat as this continent makes all the moves. Africa has the largest youth population of any continent in the world in an era where service providers thrive instead of already established business oligarchs, the entire world unlocked by fast and cheap connectivity with thousands of opportunities for the development every second in the global village that has become our world.

Africa is now in prime position to be a key player in the fourth industrial revolution, as everything from the way we practice business to health care and education is being transformed by technology. Now, all these have made a path for Africa to take the world by storm but there is still a boat load of work to be done and Africa’s potential cannot be under looked.

One sector that promises to be an area of special interest and high value economic reward is energy, even though the vast majority of the Africa’s power is still gotten from coal today, many Africans and young entrepreneur see the potential in the renewables as the key to unlocking Africa’s caged energy sector that is overly dependent on coal and crude oil.

As the entire world continues to strive to reduce its carbon footprint and explore sources of energy that we can turn into power as efficiently and cleanly as possible, it turns out we may have undervalued the number one resource available to us, the sun. solar is by far the largest, most reliable source of energy available all around the world and yet we are not using it to our full potential. Researchers imagine it might be possible to transform the world’s largest desert, the sahara, into a giant solar farm, capable of meeting four times the world’s current energy demand.

Blueprints have been drawn up for projects in Tunisia and Morocco that would supply electricity for millions of households in Europe. Sand dunes, droughts and sand storms have often been perceived to characterize deserts. These regions of vast sand dunes and vast rock land space barely have any vegetative coverings.

Although, a few oasis might be discovered dispersed within it’s proximity. Desolate and dry it might be perceived, however, whispers suggest the dawn of an age where technology might push nature towards sustainable development to serve the generations to come. In an era that has come to appreciate the eagerness nature, is willing to serve its stewards.

Exploration of renewable energy is rapidly gaining accreditation, ever so firmly to the extent of the conception of an impressively audacious feat by scientists. To garnish the blazing hot Saharan desert with a stream of solar panels to tap into the God given infinite energy. As a matter of fact, the 10 largest solar facilities in the world are all located in deserts and dry regions.

The Saharan desert is being touted as the targeted desert should all these theories materialize. Perhaps, rightly so as it is the largest desert in the world. It spans across 10 different countries in 3 different time zones. It’s massive size would rank it fifth in the world had it been a country as its boundaries make it bigger than brazil yet slightly smaller the US and China.

The annual sunshine hours of the world map shows that, although, there are notable hot spots across the world such as North America, south America and southern Africa. However, the sahara desert has by far the highest sunlight in the world and gets absolutely massacred by sunlight throughout the day.

The Sahara desert extends over an estimated area of 9 million square kilometers, within each meter of the crust is exposed to between 3000 to 4000 kilo watt hours of solar energy annually. This translates directly to over 22 billion giga watt hours a year for the entire surface area. To put this into perspective, those areas receiving 4000 hours of sunlight yearly in the Sahara desert, has nearly four times the amount of annual sunlight that Germany gets in a year.

This can be attributed to the fact that is much directly under the tropic of cancer which means the sunshine falls most of the year directly over it and also clouds never form or even exist over the entire desert. This means that all that sunlight is almost never interrupted. Making the sahara desert the best place in the world to develop solar farms. This then brings the most asked question of what exactly might happen if we covered the entire desert with panels. 

What amount of solar energy would be able to produce and how would this affect our planet. On paper, the sahara desert has the potential to be a global renewable energy powerhouse capable of supplying energy in excess of 2000 times greater than the world’s global energy sources output. Whose output does not exceed 1000 giga watt hours annually.

Currently technologies have been proposed as buyable production mediums. These are concentrated solar power and standard sold every day solar panels. As any with any machine or technology, these energy generating solutions have their pros and cons. Concentrated solar power is designed to focus the sun’s energy into specific spots or receptors using lenses and mirrors. 

Fashioned with intrinsic qualities, optimized to function ideally in constant sunny and hot weather, heat received id converted into mechanical energy with the aid of steam turbines and finally to electrical energy. Large amounts of energy are harnessed even in molten salt form, permitting the uninterrupted generation of electricity even at night.

Morocco is currently home to the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, haven invested nearly $3 billion in the Noor power project, with an estimated capacity of 510 mega watts located on a 60 by 180 hectares of land. The country aims to develop additional power plants in the sahara desert that would effectively generate more than 2000 mega watts of electricity.

Production which would be distributed to Europe through under sea cables. Morocco has been working on this ambitious  renewable energy program since 2009 with the objective of maximizing renewable energy’s contribution of the national energy network to 38% by the end of 2022 and 52% by 2030.

Other neighboring countries such as Algeria and Tunisia have also outlined multi billion dollar concentrated solar powered plants projects with several contracts awarded or in the tendering phase. Although necessary as the standard means for CSP solar power generation, the mode of operations of the steam turbines is generally a complex technology. Also lenses and mirrors implemented require regular washing and cleaning with water to remove dust and impurities produced by sand storms, among others.

Photovoltaic solar panel or flat sun scorched surfaces are rich in silicon, a material whose property as a semi conductor renders it as valuable component for photo voltaic cells even more so, as silicon cells provide maximum efficiency at affordable cost. Meanwhile proving its durability evident from a long lifespan.

It is the most widely used type of solar power. Because it can be connected to the grid or distributed for small scale use on individual buildings while producing adequate output in cloudy conditions at the other hand sand storms could cover the panels, there  by reducing their efficiency even further the Egyptian government recognizes the importance of a sustainable energy mix in order to meet rising demand while also transitioning to a more environmentally sustainable and diverse electrical industry, have invested massively in photovoltaic energy.

The country is targeting 22% installation across the country as compared to only 3% for CSP solar energy generation by 2030. In October 2018, IRENA or international renewable energy agency,  declared that by 2030, Egypt can use renewable energy to supply 53% of it’s electricity needs. Depending on the weather, both technologies may require some water to clean the mirrors and panels making water an important factor to consider.

Thus many experts have flirted with the potential of combining the 2 main technologies to create a hybrid system. As tantalizing as these theoretical rationales may seem, the Physical transcendence of the Saharan desert into a massive continental and global solar power would obligate the need to overcome dominant political, regulatory, environmental and technological hurdles.

First of all, the possibility of reaching a united front with regards to legislation and policies might prove difficult, especially as the Sahara is home to a number of nations, including a tense Libyan nation that is currently unstable. With a heightened emphasis on sustainable development, it is vital to consider the environment whenever engaging in massive energy generating projects.

This notion has forced researchers to conduct several feasibility studies on the global impact of what solar parks sprawled across the Sahara desert could administer. Black surfaces are potent with absorbing light which is apparently portrayed by the highly absorptive black surface of the solar panels, these surfaces are adaptations that enhance the efficiency of the solar panels. Although only a meagre 15% of the energy received is converted to electricity.

Excess energy is allowed back into the atmosphere consequently heating the atmosphere and contributing significantly to an alteration in climate in the thinly populated and barren desert, these installations would have had little, or no significance if the effects were felt domestically.

Yet, for successful energy generation the configuration ought to expand land mass spanning thousands of square kilometers. Air circulation in the atmosphere, from an area of this size would breeze re emitted heat across the area, continent and the entire planet. Causing threatening consequences on the environment. Research also highlights, that the skyrocketed local temperatures would raise humidity levels in the atmosphere leading to higher rainfall tendencies.

Which might be all well and good a millennium event, particularly for the sprouting of vegetation and biodiversity. However, this might produce an advertent effect, nonetheless, with the capacity to generate energy, in equivalence to over 36 billion barrels of oil per day which is proportional to about 5 barrels per person, this transcendence if ever achieved would yield as much energy.

As the entire African continent has the capacity to with relatively has to capacity to, with relatively lower carbon dioxide emissions. Due to the looming potency associated with transforming deserts into energy hubs, scientists and other high profile figures have courted the impact desert solar systems could have on global energy demand. In the united states, founder, CEO and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, Elon Musk stated in 2017, at the national governor’s associations summer meeting that a small portion of a sunny state could theoretically power the entire country with solar panels. Outlining the possible to power the entirety of the united states using 100 by 100 mile solar panels configured in corners of Nevada, texas or Utah.

Other conglomerates have attempted to achieve this herculean feat including; Desertec, a project announced in 2009 and quickly attracted a large amount of funding from various banks and energy companies. Before largely collapsing five years later when most investors pulled out due to high cost. A variety of political, commercial and social factors, including the lack of rapid development in the Saharan region hinders such ambitious projects.

In summary large scale solar projects across the Saharan desert have the potential to power entire countries and continents in theory yet reality proposes significant obstacles to overcome. However, with the fast pace at which new technologies are being developed in recent years, its just only a matter of time to see how the Sahara desert can power the entire world.

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