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.
The authors acknowledge funding from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.