So far, hot and sunny regions, such as North Africa have been hailed as the best for large-scale solar energy production — such as the solar-thermal initiative DESERTEC.
But a study has found that key areas for solar energy production through photovoltaic (PV) panels are in the coldest regions in the world, including Antarctica.
These areas have a lot of sunshine — and therefore a high amount of solar irradiation — and low temperatures help improve solar panel performance.
Just four per cent of the area with the highest potential in the Himalayas, or around 120,000 square kilometres, could power the entirety of China, based on 2007 electricity consumption data, the study says.
"So far, the price of photovoltaic has been decreasing and its efficiency increasing very rapidly," said Kotaro Kawajiri, lead author from the Research Institute of Science for Safety and Sustainability at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, adding that this makes it a promising technology for the future.
"My research goal is to support an Asian DESERTEC project in the future," Kawajiri said. "If it is realised, the impact would be huge because CO2 emissions in Asia are becoming one of the largest problems in the world."
The results could also prove a good incentive for small-scale solar electrification of remote, rural areas, Kawajiri added.
But although the potential is there, Kawajiri admitted that the costs of producing solar energy on a large scale in these areas may still be too high, due to practical limitations.
"To realise the potential, there are some problems such as snow fall, loss of electricity during transmission, and the efforts of installing PVs in such [remote] regions," he said.
"There is a need for a feasibility study to clarify whether the potential is really [practically] useful or not," he told SciDev.Net.
Colombian physicist and energy consultant Humberto Rodríguez, agreed with the study's conclusions, adding that the light in such areas has a great proportion of high-energy blue light, which makes the potential for energy generation even bigger.
The study was published online in Environmental Science & Technology (18 August).
Environmental Science & Technology doi:10.1021/es200635x (2011)