EghtesadOnline: Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region with over 300 sunny days in many parts that makes it suitable for harnessing solar energy.
However, according to the deputy energy minister, Mohammad Satkin, construction of solar power plants in desert areas is a mistake.
Satkin, who also is managing director of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Organization (Satba), said: “Facilities that convert energy from sunlight into electricity are of two types: solar thermal power plants and their photovoltaic peers,” Bargh News quoted him as saying.
Solar thermal plants perform well in the desert, but as their construction is more complicated and expensive than photovoltaic power stations, a few have been built in the country (including one in Yazd), he said.
Solar thermal power plants are electricity generation plants that utilize energy from the Sun to heat a fluid to a high temperature. This fluid then transfers its heat to water, which then becomes superheated steam. This steam is then used to turn turbines in a power plant, and this mechanical energy is converted into electricity by a generator. This type of generation is essentially the same as electricity generation that uses fossil fuels, but instead heats steam using sunlight instead of combustion of fossil fuels.
“Given its vast deserts, Iran has huge potential for expanding solar thermal power, but since their construction is not economically feasible, it is not on the Energy Ministry agenda,” Satkin noted.
While such solar power plants are not common in Iran, the government is promoting the use of photovoltaic power, also known as solar farms, in which photovoltaic modules convert light directly to electricity.
Solar panels work by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells, generating direct current energy and then converting it to usable alternating current energy with the help of inverter technology.
“Solar panels get huge amount of sunlight in the deserts, but as they heat their efficiency reduces by a third and output suffers.”
In addition, solar panels need to be cleaned regularly for better output, but sand and dust is everywhere in the desert with very little, if any, water to wash the panels, he said.
There is one more reason that does not make deserts qualified candidates for developing solar power plants and that is the lack of infrastructure to transfer power from source to destination, especially long distances.
“There are no consumers in and around the desert areas. The cost of building infrastructure and transfer electricity is prohibitive in the present [economic] circumstances,” the official said.
Although renewable energy is the least expensive for improving access to electricity, reducing air pollution and cutting CO2 emissions, Iran’s share of renewables, including solar, wind, small-scale hydroelectric, waste-to-energy and biomass, is 840 megawatts out of the total installed power capacity of 84,500 MW.
There are 54 solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants under construction with a total capacity of 230 MW.
According to Energy Ministry data, solar and wind account for 48% and 36% of the domestic renewable power production, respectively.
Small-scale hydroelectric plants, waste-to-energy plants and biomass factories constitute 13%, 2% and 1% of the total renewable output, respectively.
Renewables can help transform unsustainable production and consumption patterns, protect biodiversity, reverse deforestation and combat land degradation.