I am concerned that some misconceptions may be leading the Government to overlook a source of clean energy with great potential for the UK and the rest of Europe.
I refer to concentrating solar power (CSP), the simple but effective technique of using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat and then using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. Solar heat may be stored in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night and on cloudy days.
Detailed studies by scientists and engineers at the German Aerospace Centre show it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity throughout Europe from North Africa and the Middle East using highly efficient high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. The potential is huge: less than 1 per cent of the world's hot deserts could produce enough electricity to supply the world.
In the scenario described by the German team, CSP electricity would be one of several renewable sources of energy and there would be an overall increase in the resilience and security of energy supplies compared with the situation now. There are substantial potential benefits for people in countries of the sun belt, including desalination of sea water using waste heat from CSP plants.
Malcolm Wicks, the Minister for Science and Innovation, said recently that the Government had not made any assessment of using CSP to help the UK meet its long-term energy requirements but was concerned that amounts of surplus electricity required to develop the HVDC link would require considerable investment. "The Government does not consider this technology a priority for further work," he added.
But the German report calculates that CSP could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity throughout Europe, including the cost of transmission. Furthermore, the quantities of energy potentially available are massive and the transmission losses are low.