By Michael J. Coren
Think the best place for solar panels is the desert? Think again. In Antarctica, the sun shines 24 hours a day.
The standard vision is a desert filled with solar panels. Solar power is at home in the desert, because the desert is hot. But the Arctic is calling.
Most of us have a hard time imagining solar panels among the frigid expanses and mountain ranges of South America or Nepal, but those sun-drenched regions can generate more energy per hectare than many of the world's deserts, according to an article in the Environmental Science & Technology.
The new study identified the Himalaya Mountains, the Andes, and even Antarctica as among the world's most promising solar power landscapes, at least in theory. The (flatter) regions around Mt Everest, say, could generate power for China's great industrial endeavors. At the polar regions, where temperatures might dip more than 50 degrees below freezing but sunlight shines 24 hours per day for half the year, solar technology could also be effective. Solar and wind power has already been a major power source for Antarctic research bases outfitted with many megawatts of renewable energy capacity (although what works for the U.S. McMurdo station in Antarctica may not much sense in other inhospitable conditions).
To pinpoint the best places for solar power, researchers used available weather data to account for the temperature effects on solar cell output, with variables such as transmission losses and snow fall to be considered in the future. Potential, however, is not reality. Why collect all this information if most of this potential energy will never be tapped? Because maps can catalyze large scale investment in renewable energy potential, as California's wind data maps helped enable that states' wind industry to invest in promising sites.
The next steps will be figuring out the infrastructure and economics of a new solar grid. Creating power in Antarctica is one thing. Getting it to civilization is another. That will prove considerably more challenging.
[Image: Flickr user Anne Froelich]
Copyright 2011 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.