Wouldn't it be great if there were a technology or database in place to locate the world's sunniest spots? Not only could it help spur further investment in solar energy technologies by giving businesses or governments the best bang for their buck; it would also provide more cost-effective energy solutions for developing countries - particularly in Africa - which receive a lot of sunlight but lack a proper power grid infrastructure.
NASA has been working on building just such a database, gathering and scrutinizing 22 years' worth of maps compiled by European and U.S. satellites to find Earth's sunniest places; it has so far determined that the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the Sahara Desert top the list of sunniest locations. The effort is being spearheaded by the Group on Earth Observations, a 72-nation coalition that seeks practical applications for scientific information to "benefit society." They estimate that the Sahara region has gotten an average of 6.78 kW-hours of solar energy per square meter a day from 1983 to 2005 - about the amount of electricity used by a U.S. home to heat water every day (making it the most sun-soaked terrestrial area on Earth). Other benefits of using the satellite images include siting future offshore wind farms - by locating regions with high wave speeds - and providing farmers with valuable solar energy data to guide their crop planting operations.
One innovative Italian company, Flyby, is using the data to monitor levels of UV radiation; it sends out mobile phone alerts to advise people to protect themselves when levels get excessively high. The satellite information would come in particularly handy in developing countries where solar power would provide a much better alternative to conventional power sources due to a general lack of infrastructure. As Thierry Ranchin, a professor at the Ecole des Mines de Paris in France, explained: "If you want to bring electricity to a small village in Africa, it's often easier to do it with a stand-alone system than a grid with power lines."
Now that we're finally seeing some real progress in getting cost-effective, practical solar cell technologies out the door, it shouldn't be long before we're able to fully capitalize on this rich database.
Via ::Los Angeles Times: Mapping a path to solar power (newspaper)