via news.discovery.com

It’s the biggest solar energy project ever.

Fossil fuels are running out. Carbon dioxide is building up. What to do? Engineers in Germany are combining old and new solar technology into what may be the biggest solar energy project ever.

They plan to erect solar collectors in the Sahara Desert, where there’s lots of sunshine. And lots of room. More than three-and-a-half-million square miles. That’s as big as the continental United States. A solar array big enough to supply the whole world with electric power could fit into 35,000 square miles. One percent of the Sahara. About the size of the state of Maine.

Maybe the coolest thing about the planned project is that most of the technology has been around for years and we know it works. They’ll collect the sun’s heat with something called parabolic troughs. A parabolic trough is like a big pipe split in half lengthwise that focuses sunlight on glass tubes that run above the trough’s center.

sahara desert solar power

The tubes carry special oil that’s heated to more than 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot oil turns water into steam to spin turbines that’ll drive electric generators. Simple. The project’s first goal is to meet 15 percent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050. The only real catch is getting the electricity from the Sahara to Europe, but they think they’ve got that one solved, too.

We’ve got solar energy solved for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station.

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