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Will Mt. Everest be covered with solar panels?

Oct. 14, 2011
Courtesy of the American Chemical Society
and World Science staff

High moun­tains such as Mt. Ev­er­est may be the best places for gen­er­at­ing so­lar en­er­gy, if fac­tors in­clud­ing snow­fall can be suc­cess­fully ad­dressed, a new study pro­poses.

The re­search adds a sur­pris­ing twist to long­stand­ing as­sump­tions that hot des­erts are ide­al places for set­ting up so­lar ar­rays.

While many hot re­gions such as the U.S. des­ert South­west are in­deed ex­cel­lent loca­t­ions for gath­er­ing the sun’s en­er­gy, some of the high­est and cold­est land­scapes may have even great­er po­ten­tial, the study con­clud­ed.

Ar­eas such as the Him­a­la­ya moun­tains, which in­clude Mt. Ev­er­est, could be es­pe­cially well-suit­ed to sup­ply­ing Chi­na’s bur­geon­ing econ­o­my with so­lar pow­er, ac­cord­ing to the re­search, which ap­pears in the jour­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence & Tech­nol­o­gy.

The study al­so cit­ed the An­des mountains and Ant­arc­ti­ca as po­ten­tially prime loca­t­ions for set­ting up so­lar ar­rays.

The au­thors, Ko­taro Kawa­jiri of Japan’s Na­tional In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced In­dus­t­ri­al Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy and col­leagues, note that ar­id and semi-ar­id ar­eas with plen­ty of sun­shine long have been rec­og­nized as good so­lar sites. But gaps still ex­ist in knowl­edge about the best places for pro­duc­ing so­lar en­er­gy, thanks to the lim­it­ed da­ta avail­a­ble on crit­i­cal weather-related con­di­tions on a glob­al scale, they added.

They used an es­tab­lished tech­nique that takes in­to ac­count the ef­fects of tem­per­a­ture on so­lar cell out­put to es­ti­mate glob­al so­lar en­er­gy po­ten­tial us­ing avail­a­ble da­ta. Fu­ture work will con­sid­er oth­er vari­ables, such as snow­fall and trans­mis­sion losses, they said. As ex­pected, they found that many hot re­gions are ide­al loca­t­ions for so­lar ar­rays. But 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.


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High mountains such as Mt. Everest may be the best places for generating solar energy, if factors including snowfall can be successfully addressed, a new study proposes. The research adds a surprising twist to longstanding assumptions that hot deserts are ideal places for setting up solar arrays. While many hot regions such as the U.S. desert southwest are indeed excellent locations for gathering the sun’s energy, some of the highest and coldest landscapes may have even greater potential, the study concluded. Areas such as the Himalaya mountains, which include Mt. Everest, could be especially well-suited to supplying China’s burgeoning economy with solar power, according to the research, which appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study also cited the Andes and Antarctica as potentially prime locations for setting up solar arrays. The authors, Kotaro Kawajiri of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and colleagues, note that arid and semi-arid areas with plenty of sunshine long have been recognized as good solar sites. But gaps still exist in knowledge about the best places for producing solar energy, thanks to the limited data available for critical weather-related conditions on a global scale, they added. They used an established technique that takes into account the effects of temperature on solar cell output to estimate global solar energy potential using available data. Future work will consider other variables, such as snowfall and transmission losses, they said. As expected, they found that many hot regions are ideal locations for solar arrays. But 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.