Author(s): Remus Pravalie
The use of solar energy is currently considered a highly promising strategy for a worldwide clean energy transition and for the sustainable development of human society. However, the large-scale implementation of this renewable energy is largely conditioned by the available information on the distribution and intensity of existing solar resources, which so far have been insufficiently thoroughly explored globally. This paper aims to investigate the solar energy potential at global scale, using representative spatial data on global horizontal irradiation (GHI, relevant parameter for assessing energy generation via photovoltaics/PV technologies) and direct normal irradiation (DNI, important parameter for the development of concentrating solar power/CSP systems), which have recently become available globally, at high spatial resolution. Based on the recent data, the paper essentially aims to map and statistically analyze the solar energy potential globally, continentally and nationally, using geostatistical methods applied via Geographical Information Systems. Our findings indicated the existence of 6 major global GHI (western South America, northern, eastern and southwestern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Australia), and DNI (southwestern North America, western South America, southwestern Africa, northwestern Arabian Peninsula, Tibetan Plateau and Australia) hotspots, characterized by peak annual energy potential values, i.e. >2200 kWh/m2 (for GHI) and >2500 kWh/m2 (DNI), respectively. It was found that these regions with abundant solar resources covered a vast global area (~15 mil km2/10% of the world's land area, for GHI, and ~8 mil km2/5%, for DNI), across numerous countries, most of which in Africa and Asia. Our results therefore showed that that many countries worldwide hold the much-needed solar resources for a large-scale implementation of PV and CSP systems, the most important worldwide technologies currently used in solar electricity generation.
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