Sun-baked deserts may seem like the obvious choice for harnessing solar power, but new research from Japan suggests quite the opposite: Cold, high-altitude destinations like Mount Everest have immense potential for capturing solar energy. The findings are set to be published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, and could have major implications for powering nearby regions in the future. Here's what you should know:
Why a location like Mount Everest?
Two factors are at play: First, the study found that, thanks to thinner atmospheric conditions, high elevations can provide more direct exposure to the sun, says John Roach of MSNBC. Secondly, colder temperatures actually "increase the operational efficiency of certain photovoltaic solar cells," which convert sunlight into usable electricity.
But don't such regions pose all sorts of challenges?
Yep. Constructing a complex solar farm atop a mountain would be no picnic. As Geoffrey Styles of The Energy Collective points out, "the installation, maintenance and transmission challenges in the Andes and Himalayas aren't trivial." Plus, the actual cost and potential for a solar farm to be economically feasible is determined by unreliable variables including available manpower, supplies like photovoltaic carbon, and incentives from local governments.
So why install them?
Obviously, a big solar farm in a cold, high-altitude region like Antarctica wouldn't be practical "given the low population" and "the fact that it's dark for half the year," says Roach (unless there were some affordable way to store and transport the energy). But for fast-growing regions like India or China with immense future energy demands? The Himalayas — which includes Mount Everest — are especially attractive. "Overcoming those challenges may be worth the hassle," says Roach, "especially when factors such as global climate change are added to the equation."