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Blake Ekelund

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Sahara desert as a solar farm.

Instead of looking at the Sahara desert as a vast unusable wasteland, look at it as good as gold!

Think... If 0.3% of this desert were covered in solar panels, we would have enough energy to power Europe!

Now take that scale to 1%. We could power the U.S and Europe without the use of Nuclear, Coal, and other non renewable "harmful" substances.

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  • Oct 23 2012: hi Blake

    This is great Idea!

    Europeans have all the rights to use African natural resources. because they haven't had enough since Industrial Revolution.

    Here is an IDEA for you

    STOP buying and filling your homes with High Tech gadgets so you won't need more electricity!

    TEXAS is large enough to provide Solar energy to US and Canada, what's wrong with using that part of land?
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      Oct 23 2012: Good reality check! Here in Australia we hear no end of complaints about rising electricity costs from people watching their 50inch plasma screen with the aircon set to 20°C when its 35 outside.
    • Oct 24 2012: "Europeans have all the rights to use African natural resources. because they haven't had enough since Industrial Revolution.

      Here is an IDEA for you

      STOP buying and filling your homes with High Tech gadgets so you won't need more electricity!

      TEXAS is large enough to provide Solar energy to US and Canada, what's wrong with using that part of land?"

      There might be problems getting the energy from Texas to Europe, wouldn't you think? The Sahara can accomodate much more solar power than the Arabs could ever use, meanwhile they lack fertile farmland which Europe has plenty of, hmmm, I wonder if somewhere there's a fair solution to be found there...
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        Oct 24 2012: To be fair getting the energy from africa to Europe is just as unfeasible.
        • Oct 24 2012: There is already a power line between Norway and Germany that's so long a similar power line could span from the Tunisian Sahara to the Italian mainland. There's also one in China whose length would bridge the distance between the Algerian Sahara and Belgium. And now they're building one in Brazil that's 500km longer than that Chinese line.

          It's also possible to have a "pass-it-forward" scheme where Spain generates energy for Portugal and France and Spain gets energy from Algeria, with the Spanish paying the Algerians and the Portugese and French paying the Spanish.

          Additionaly there are options for wireless transmission or using hydrogen as an energy carrier.
        • Oct 24 2012: Peter,

          the way the Europeans found to bring Latin American gold, they also can find a way to bring each piece of Sahara's sand (one by one). and as long as it is profitable they also can make the Africans count the sand pieces for them.
      • Oct 24 2012: John,

        I didn't ask to use Texas's land to produce energy for Europe. (where have you read that I asked such a thing?) All I have said (and I will keep saying) is this: STAY OUT OF AFRICA, it is not European land. and it DOES NOT belong to Europeans.

        How comes that Europeans need more energy than Arabs? How comes that Europeans can go and build Solar Energy Parks on someone else land and use it for themselves? Who gave them that right?

        If we think we have the right to do so, what stops us from doing that for African people?
        WHY NOT for Africans? Instead of pumping the energy to North, why not to South?
        (oh, maybe in Mali, Niger, Senegal, Chad, Sierra Leone etc people will have energy (can watch TV, use internet, build schools) and will become smarter. Oh no, that is not what we want, isn't that true? we want it for us.)
        European Greed is legal, isn't it? We are known (with all right) being Masters at someone else's house.
        • Oct 24 2012: "I didn't ask to use Texas's land to produce energy for Europe."

          I know, however you did rant about Europe and then suddenly switched to Texas, I joked about that because it seems you like to rant without coming up with alternatives.

          "STAY OUT OF AFRICA, it is not European land. and it DOES NOT belong to Europeans."

          Who said that? Why do you assume Europe won't pay Africa for the energy? Did you forget the fact that the Arabs get paid fortunes for oil by Europe? It strikes me as very odd that you did not understand I was hinting at Europe exporting food (and other goods whose manufacturing process requires lots of water) to the Sahran countries in exchanging for importing energy from those countries, this in addition to Europe paying for the construction of the solar parks and the surrounding infrastructure.

          "How comes that Europeans need more energy than Arabs?"

          Because the population of Europe is greater than that of the Saharan countries.

          "Instead of pumping the energy to North, why not to South?"

          Why "instead of", why not both? Did you not read the sentence that said Europe needs only 0.3% of the surface area? There would be plenty of room left for energy generation for the sub-Saharan countries, but they will have to pay for that themselves just as Europe would.
      • Oct 24 2012: John,

        :-) Where are you from, sir?

        How much did Europe pay for African gold, diamond and for the blood they shed for gold and diamond?

        We brought / bring uncountable amount of wealth from Africa and when we give them some pennies we shout as hard as we can.

        Please, don't make me laugh.

        Thank you
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        Oct 24 2012: Its possible to do it yes, but the power loss due to distance even with HVDC means you have to build twice as much PV to compensate so a technology that has trouble competing on price at the best of times becomes unfeasible. If you are transmitting power over long distance why not build nuclear far away from any population and use HVDC to transmit the power from that?
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    Oct 25 2012: The PS10 and PS20 Solar Plants in Seville, Spain has been operating successfully for several years:

    http://www.torresolenergy.com/TORRESOL/gemasolar-plant/en

    Energy storage duration via pressurized steam is approx one hour, but an energy storage medium such as molten salt would improve this substantially, allowing energy release in darkness.

    Because of energy losses, such Solar plants would be best suited at or near point of use. So the remoteness of the Sahara would render the technology inefficient.

    What might be more beneficial would be to use desert-generated solar power for desalinating large amounts of seawater for new crops, livestock and human consumption. As farms develop, so too will human settlement - thus bringing point of use to the point of generation, intead of trying to transport the energy over thousands of miles.
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    Oct 23 2012: For those that can receive ARTE, a German/French broadcast channel they can see a documentary on the subject. "Electricity from the desert."



    http://www.arte.tv/de/acc/244,em=045194-000.html


    Tuesday, Novembre 11 at H 10:35.
    MET


    Direct online: http://www.tv-replay.fr/redirection/23-10-12/l-energie-du-sahara-arte-10423929.html
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    Oct 28 2012: I would argue that a combination of solar, wind, wave, tidal, piezoelectric and geothermal energy sources, localized to generate maximum output, would render all non renewable energy sources obsolete.

    A MIT report shows that we have 4000 years of untapped clean and renewable geothermal energy that can easily meet the energy needs of tomorrow. http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf
  • Oct 27 2012: I have generator that runs on it's own power. It can go in to houses, cars, airplanes, etc. It will work so good it could fly around the world with out stoping. I have started to make the first one to go in to houses. If I hade the funding I could get it up and running faster. Please help me save the planet. If you would like to know more please ask.
  • Oct 26 2012: I see one of your "topics" is "life". There is life in the desert. I think that rather than paving the planet, we could look into doing with less, doing more with less, sharing; or maybe doing without.
    No, the world doesn't need nuclear energy, or the digging-up, transporting, preparing, & eventual burial or escape of those fuels.

    Anywho, what about transmission of energy in a laser-carrying tube; as we do with water & oil?
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    Oct 25 2012: Point of consumption power generation has got to be a better solution. Imagine if every dwelling and every business was required as part of a building code to produce enough energy for all inhabitants. Dwelling owners could then receive credits or cash every month from businesses and other dwellings that had peak needs for power.
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    Oct 25 2012: Several of the problems have already been noted; a politically unstable region, sandblasting, transmissions difficulties.

    Solar panels are not cheap. My brother works for a company that produces melting furnaces that create pure silicon ingots used in solar panel manufacturing. He has noted several problems; it takes about a week to produce an ingot. It isn't the melting that is an issue, it is the cooling process. Ingots must cool slowly so that they don't create internal stress cracks that would render them useless. Second, there is the cutting. Pure silicon is about as hard as granite. Third, there is the brittleness. Pure silicon wafers are extremely brittle. Until these problems can be dealt with, the cost isn't going to change much.

    As far as a power generation plant goes, they all need a cooling source. That is why they are all built near water sources. A heat engine needs a heat sink for condensing in order to work.

    The work environment is also an issue; 130 degree heat in the daytime is a hard environment to work in. The labor contracts and the turnover in workforce are all going to have to be dealt with along with the engineering difficulties of working in a hostile environment. Eventually we may find the answers that make it possible.
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    Oct 25 2012: I think before that happens we need to increase the efficience of solar panels way ..way above the 36% mark
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      Oct 25 2012: Ahm, just to keep working on efficiancy levels we are already used to and neglecting the renewable aspect completely?

      31% coal-fired power plants (world average)
      33% nuclear power plant (world average)

      In this case, lower efficiency is just a matter of additional space, which, in desert regions, does no seem a major problem to me...
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        Oct 25 2012: I agree but if we can increase the efficiency before we take on such I big project, wouldn't we be in my opinion a waste of resources to implement now, which isn't that what we are trying to prevent . So why not wait till we get above the 50% mark so that way were just not replacing the materials in 5 years instead in 5 years we could be at or above the 50% mark
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          Oct 25 2012: Because time is ticking against us! A project of this scale will not be realised within a few years and there is no need to have all of this panels coming out of just one generation. On the contrary, as technology improves, so would the panels used in such a power-plant and they could be easily integrated as they hit the market.

          Considering a 'waste of resources' in this comparison does not hold up, as the given energy production is a waste of resources already.

          Silicon is no scarce resource on this planet and it would not be effected using some of it to get our energy renewable and finally green.
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        Oct 25 2012: Unless you are talking about the mayan prophecy or dooms day. I think we are on pretty good trajectory. The worlds energy crisis exist but even if we don't get of oil in the next 50 to 100 years I think as a society we will still survive specially if we keep adding newer and better forms of alternative energy
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          Oct 25 2012: Tracectory leading us were? To me it is no matter of survival, as a species we will, yet if we do not initiate the right change, the right transitions, now, the system we know it will collapse to the expense, health and lifes of the young generations, living today.

          Just as a simple fact: Our whole world food supply is based on fossile fuel, beginning at seeding, fertilization, harvesting, transportation, storage, cooling and preparation. And even the fertilizer itself is based on fossile fuel, exclusively in large scale production.

          Just to transform this system within a timeframe of 75 years - and personally I don't think we have that much time (oil) left - we need to start NOW, to hopefully get it done just in time, not even counting the rise in worlds population today and in the near future.

          Honestly I do not see any trajectory but lip-service anywere!

          Why? Well, that is easy, because there is no quick profit to gain here, no boost in shareholder value and no short turn return in investment for the given system!

          Nuclear and coal-fired power plants are no alternative, so what is substantially there, in the scale of change we need, for its replacement? I don't see a single approach, nowhere, serious and powerful enough to really make this change happen.

          There is no need for the ending of the mayan calendar nor an apocalyptic world-end scenario of a religion to start, better keep blowing the whistle...
        • Oct 25 2012: I agree with Lejan, I hardly think we have a timescale of 50 years worth of oil. Even if the price keeps going up and making petrol based product more and more "valuable", the need for petrol grows much faster. Societies all over the planet are growing and their needs for petrol are growing too.


          I think we should realize that alternative sources are not an alternative anymore. If we hope to ever grow as a species, we need to invest in Solar, Wind and Hydro energy. (Some forms of hydroelectricity requires flooding large ecosystem and may be harmful to the local environment, but it's still has the best ratio for production/pollution, to my knowledge.)

          I hope someone will look at the Sahara as an energy sources, I really do. There's a lot of potential for "solar scientist" (I don't know if that's how they call themselves, but it does sound cool, so I'm guessing they don't mind) Maybe an internationally funded research team could be implanted there, with the objective of perfecting and optimizing solar energy with every technology available on the planet.

          Now, I'm not sure about the feasibility of covering 1% of the Sahara RIGHT NOW. Solar energy is just beginning, I think before wasting valuable materials on low quality solar panels, we should really focus on optimizing them... thus the research facility.

          Am I the only one thinking someone from some space program should already be there with solar panels, testing some stuff for future missions or something?

          By the way, I greatly salute the question and it's author. This world really needs new ideas, and harvesting the sun from the Sahara is a good one I think. I believe the technology that is currently killing our home is going to be it's savior... if we can just change gear and get to work.
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        Oct 25 2012: Yeah and I am bias because here in america where putting up new wind turbines it seems almost every day, local schools and government building with led light and solar. So really I can only talk about the USA. However recently I say that some over seas country installed the largest land based wind turbine to date. To test for deployment out in the ocean. But once again I can only see it from the US perspective.

        however you are right but oil will be used and produced for quite some time in the future
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          Oct 25 2012: Wind turbines, led lights and solar is good to install, no doubt, but it does not match the scale we need to change in the near future and it does not have the momentum, the acceleration needed to tackle the challenge.

          Statistically you (USA) consume twice as much energy per year than I do (Europe) and both of us consume way to much as it was good for our planet.

          As I lived in the US for a while I didn't experienced any change in living standard, so the difference in consumption must be caused somewhere else.

          In my view, one cause is hidden within the suburbanisation in the US. You have a lot of land and you used it. Resulting - in terms of energy efficiency - in a wide spread distribution of homes and the need to use a car to go (drive) 'shopping'.

          I used to live in Newark, Delaware, nothing more than a large University campus surrounded and interwoven by a small town, happen to carry that name. But even though it was small for US standard, before I had my own car, it was very difficult to me to get my shopping done. Little to no sidewalks along the streets, a view small grocery stores downtown, yet the supermarket way off the town center and almost only accessible by car.

          Changing those structures towards a more compact and 'walkable' infrastructure will become mandatory in the near future unless we find a source of renewable energy for our transportation. So far, again, even there is nothing in sight for a complete substitution, and a view Teslar's won't have any impact on that change to come...

          Oil will be used for quite some time in the future, but because of the increase in price - and this is the law of the market, no doomsday fantasy - less and less people will be able to afford it. And this will happen to our food too! At first it may doesn't even bother anyone if fancy fruits from oversees get more expensive one day, and turn even luxury some days later, but bread, potatoes and before all meat will follow, and at this point change may be to late ..
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          Oct 25 2012: If you are interested, this short BBC documentary made me think as I do now:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3sxMByA1R0&feature=related
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        Oct 25 2012: yeah I will check it out
  • Oct 25 2012: Something like that is in progress as a North-African project: see www.desertec.org
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    Oct 24 2012: When will people realize money is not a factor for anything to be produced on this planet? Well, it is a factor as long as people are greedy and only caring about themselves; which is why I think we are going to have to force this upon certain folks. It is for the betterment of mankind so suck it up and deal with it. Isn't adaptation one of the key benefits of survival? If you can't adapt to these new methods of energy harnessing, then you should get off the planet now.
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      Oct 25 2012: Who has to suck it up and deal with it! It isn't the investors, it's the poor bloke that has to work in 130 degree heat scrounging for benefits that are meet for the task. The investors sit in their air conditioned offices looking at the bottom line.
  • Oct 24 2012: It is a good idea; but such projects should be subjected to thorough environmental impact assessment so that we are not too excited about the benefits and ignore the disadvantages.
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      Oct 25 2012: I understand your point in general. But what environmental impact would there be on a desert? Now shade provided
      • Oct 25 2012: I'll leave that to scientists. But when projects of this kind is planned, it is safe not to act on assumptions.
  • Kyle H

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    Oct 24 2012: But this would also be affected by sand damage. In zones with grassland I would see this as being more viable.
  • Oct 24 2012: You still don't understand. It's not the technology, but the people. Not one government in the would would allow it's electrical supply be controlled by other countries, especially in the Mideast. At least with oil it's spread with coal all over the world. Both are harmful, but cant be stopped by a revolution or a dis grunted person with a shovel and a ax...optic control cable.
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    Oct 24 2012: Its a Commonsense Idea. But only part of the overall power generation issue. We do need to distribute energy, but costs of distribution are also mainly dependent on cost of power. We need commonsense, practical solutions. Imagine:

    1) Lots of solar power 'locally'
    2) Geothermal where possible (now many parts of the world using new deep drilling techniques)
    3) Nuclear (Thorium powered) in places where solar and geothermal can't be done effectively
    4) As a stop gap use gas powered stations (phased out say 30 years)
    5) Excess energy means cheaper (clean) transport for distribution
    6) We can expect automation to provide much more cost effective re-building of installations in say 50 years time
    7) CLEAN SUSTAINABLE future energy - forever!

    Ensure that the world builds more facilities than we need (perhaps led by some body like the United Nations coupled to the World Bank?) - the excess is turned into hydrogen (or derivatives such as ammonia) which can easily be used for transport (cars, lorries, ships). Institute a world energy policy that provides for all countries as to their needs at know/fixed cost so everyone can plan ahead on transport policies etc., (as we would have excess this shouldn't be impossible). The total energy costs would (after spending many trillions $ in development and installations) come down to the point where everyone can do much more in all parts of the world sustainably.

    So while we have many people sitting on their bums in many parts of the world not being productive - why don't we put them to work investing in the LONG TERM? Of course this means overturning economic, political, cultural barriers - so instead of doing that, we shall probably spend about 10 times more Trillions $ (over the next say 50 years) in wars, terrorism prevention, bailing out all sort of countries and societies from meltdown, or indeed disappearing down the pan. That's the choice folks.

    See Energy & Transport:
    http://www.commonsensethinking.co.uk/energy.html
    j
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      Oct 24 2012: Interesting link. It's unusual to find a website that has "common sense" in its title and actually contains common sense aswell.
  • Kyle H

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    Oct 24 2012: on top of the transmission issues, what would the life cycle be on cells in the sahara? I would think that a sand storm would damage the cells rather quickly along with the extreme temperatures.
  • Oct 24 2012: Good luck with HVDC. Any 16 year old hacker could bring it down and I'm sure as hell not paying the huge cost of building it.
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      Oct 24 2012: yeah, you know, because hackers often bring down the electric grid. you know, because it is electric, and hackers ... also do ... electric things.
  • Oct 24 2012: Great idea, but how would you transmit that power? Buy the time the power arrived at a major power grid it would be about enough to light a xmas tree light !
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      Oct 24 2012: look up hvdc. it is a natural extension to existing power grids, and quite a few are already in operation. some lines are proposed from africa to europe. construction cost is huge, and we need a lot of these if we plan to import a significant portion of the EU consumption. but maybe in 50 years we will see something like this.
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    Oct 23 2012: Ayn Rand must be rolling-over in her grave right now. Read her novel ATLAS SHRUGGED to get her perspective on how the government ALWAYS manages to "participate" in technology, particularly energy tecnology. Long live Fair Share!
    BTW, what about distribution of Saharan electricity to population centers? Maybe we could use all the subsidized Chevy Volts to pull trailer loads of fully-charged storage capacitors across the trans-Atlantic bridge? Sorry for the levity. Frustration did it.
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    Oct 23 2012: I think this is a genius idea. I wish I would have thought of it. Installation of these solar plants could be the peace treaty. Everyone gets cheaper, preferably free, energy and everyone wins.
  • Oct 23 2012: I think this is a very good idea. The question is, who would have control over it? There's always going to be war over something that somebody doesn't have. There will never be absolute world peace. If there is an energy source this big and valuable, there's going to be more than one person that wants it. Although this is a very good alternative energy source, I think this could be a big mistake as well. This would also cost a lot of money to achieve. There are many factors, but this is a plausible idea.
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    Oct 23 2012: For years, the germans have full plans layed out on the shelve to put this in practice.
    One concern though how can you implement them in a region which isn't stable, where you can't make long term deals.

    We first need peace.
  • Oct 23 2012: One little point you have not covered here. The impact on weather around the globe.
    Heat & sand, blowing off west coast of Africa, cause massive depression areas that can & do develop into hurricanes that cause $ in damage to anyone in their path. Many hard core studies would have to be made on this issue alone.
    Like they say: When ya mess with Mother Nature, she'll up & grab your butt in the end.
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    Oct 23 2012: The problem is the infrastructure that allows that power to be moved about. What we need is better battery technology, though that is improving a lot. It would be good if batteries were environmentally friendly.
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      Oct 23 2012: It's possible to make hydrogene that can be shipped around the world.
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        Oct 23 2012: You're so right. Thank you.
      • Oct 23 2012: Yes, hydrogen that can be shipped or pumped through pipelines, or the energy can be beamed to far away places through microwave bundels reflected off specially designed satellites.

        In any case there's plenty of room in Spain for solar power as well, maybe we should start there.
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          Oct 23 2012: There should be a mandate to have solar panels put on every roof of every man-made object, that would require the use of solar energy.
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        Oct 23 2012: a lot of things are possible, but none of them are viable. we don't need possible methods. we have a lot of possible methods around. we need viable methods. hydrogen is not one of them. hvdc is, but the initial cost is way too high.
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        Oct 23 2012: no it is not already used, according to your own link. it is an emergent technology for special uses. btw i would advise a little critical thinking, and for example look for efficiency data. not finding? no surprise.

        wikipedia tells you: "The AC-to-AC efficiency of hydrogen storage has been shown to be in order of 40%, rendering hydrogen storage unsuitable for anything but special (mobile) applications."

        and this 40% does not contain shipping.
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    Oct 23 2012: Hi Blake. You might be interested in reading about the use of desert environment for desalination of water. I wrote on this theme in 1980 !!! http://www.nariphaltan.org/desalination.pdf

    Cheers.
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    Oct 23 2012: if you are willing to put down some thousand dollars upfront in order to have this system in place in 10 years, and then pay 30% more for electricity, this might be a good solution for you. but you also need to convince all europeans to go with you.
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    Oct 23 2012: BTW further to earlier post someone has said it is possible to manufacture a liquid fuel from water and the atmosphere and adding lead. O2 plus Co2 plus H2O gives 5 oxygen atoms plus hydrogen then add lead. Not a chemist so don't know if truly possible, might be a chemical recipe for 'moonshine' or rocket fuel. Sorry said not a chemist only have words to use. If oil and gas can be pumped into ships and moved around the world for 'profit' must be possible to find some kind of battery. P.S. Human beings not batteries of any kind, already seen the Hollywood movie on that one. Suppose you could consider these conversations as little nuggets of energy.
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    Oct 23 2012: What about some kind of 'battery' for the immediate storage of generated electricity. It is imperative that we find some alternative means of power generation in the temperate latitudes besides fossil fuels. In the U.K. the media are advising we are likely to start experiencing power cuts from 2015. The older power generating plant are starting to be closed down as they do not meet EU rules. Sufficient nuclear generating plants were never built. We have a substantial number of wind-farms but the turbine cases catch fire if the 'sails' turn too quickly. Not getting sufficient sunlight in the last two years. Two very wet summers rotting the food in the ground and even the trees struggling to produce fruit this year. Our most important global resource is fresh drinkable water. Perhaps the deserts might be places to set up desalination plants as well as energy generating ones. As oceanic volume increases with the melting of the polar and mountain ice caps and glaciers the potential for flooding increases. On many continents people live nearer the coast than inland because cities tend to grow around trading ports. Flooding isn't always catastrophic, sometimes it is insidious. ground water tables become contaminated with salts and sewage. We are something like 80 percent water and only survive a few days without it. I still like the idea of the solar panels, maybe we could copy trees and have lots of small ones on a network of branches. The panels could then be angled like leaves to follow the sun. Would possibly need to coat the panels in something to reduce glare, what about some kind of green pigment incorporated in a gel inside the solar panels. No I don't have the technology but bet someone has. Sometimes in times of potential emergency, scientists need to co-operate. Shame it is wars that seem to enable this. We could use up all that excess algal bloom at sea, commerce loves a marketable commodity. Chlorophyll, anthrocyanin natures batteries.