Humanity is at its best when it cooperates. The International Space Station unites people the world over in an exciting shared scientific endeavour. The global eradication of smallpox was a goal few thought achievable when the programme started in 1966 yet by 1980 the job was done. Now, in the aftermath of the Paris agreement, it is time for humanity to cooperate to reduce carbon emissions. Much needs to be done. One possible project would be a global collaboration to develop and deploy concentrating solar power on a truly massive scale.
Concentrating solar power is a technology that has been known about for a very long time. In the 1870’s Auguste Mouchot built systems that worked. However cheap fossil fuels after the First World War killed off this industry. By using those cheap fossil fuels we have unwittingly destabilized our climate. Now is the time to introduce carbon taxes and to use them to fund the development of cleaner alternatives, and none has greater potential than the many forms of concentrating solar power.
In concentrating solar thermal power mirrors or lenses are used to focus the sun’s energy onto a receiver that takes this heat to make steam and so drive a turbine to make electricity, or to desalinate water, provide direct power to industrial process or domestic heating and cooling. Alternatively the sun’s energy can be focused onto a high specification photovoltaic receiver to directly make electricity. There are a rapidly growing range of hybrid systems, one of my current favourites being the dsolar system being developed by IBM and Airlight Energy. The Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, and several other research programmes around the world are also doing great research. All this needs to be scaled up and deployed in those sunny climates where this technology would work best. Let’s look at one example.
The 50 MW Godawari and 125 MW Dhursar solar power stations in Rajasthan opened in 2013 and 2014. India has moderately ambitious plans to expand its solar programme. With the right market signals (like a carbon tax), international scientific support and financial investment this could be massively scaled up and Rajasthan could become a global centre for research, development and deployment of concentrating solar power. India could then quit coal, develop clean urban mass transit systems and cities like Delhi could have air fit to breathe. The health benefits for the people of Delhi would be obvious, and benefits for climate stabilization would be global and profound.
Auguste Mouchot https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustin_Mouchot