Himalayas: future solar energy base?

Deserts are usually regarded as the hotbeds for capturing solar power, but some of the loftiest and coldest regions can receive more energy from the sun than some deserts, said Takashi Oozeki and Yutaka Genchi, authors of the research published in Environmental Science and Technology.

To set up solar cells on Himalayas would be challenging. Transmission losses and snowfall should be taken into consideration, said the researchers with the National Institute of Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.

Still, the Himalayan region is attractive, because there are large energy demands in the countries nearby. "It is near regions with large future energy demands such as China and India," they said. Other cold regions that can receive solar power include Andes of South America and Antarctica, according to the study.

Mention prime geography for generation of solar energy, and people tend to think of hot deserts. But a new study concludes that some of the world’s coldest landscapes — including the Himalaya Mountains, the Andes, and even Antarctica — could become Saudi Arabias of solar. The research appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Kotaro Kawajiri and colleagues explain that the potential for generating electricity with renewable solar energy depends heavily on geographic location. Arid and semi-arid areas with plenty of sunshine long have been recognized as good solar sites. However, the scientists point out that, as a result of the limited data available for critical weather-related conditions on a global scale, gaps still exist in knowledge about the best geographical locations for producing solar energy. To expand that knowledge, they used one established technique to estimate global solar energy potential using the data that are available. The technique takes into account the effects of temperature on the output of solar cells. Future work will consider other variables, such as transmission losses and snow fall.

As expected, they found that many hot regions such as the U.S. desert southwest are ideal locations for solar arrays. However, they also found that many cold regions at high elevations receive a lot of sunlight — so much so that their potential for producing power from the sun is even higher than in some desert areas. Kawajiri and colleagues found, for instance, that the Himalayas, which include Mt. Everest, could be an ideal locale for solar fields that generate electricity for the fast-expanding economy of the People’s Republic of China.

Kotaro Kawajiri, Takashi Oozeki, Yutaka Genchi. Effect of Temperature on PV Potential in the World. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es200635x