Of course, you know what OMG means, but "One World, One Sun, One Grid"?
It means powering the whole world with solar electricity through a unified electric grid.
You may already be aware that only a small fraction of the earth’s land surface is sufficient space for installing enough solar plants to power the whole world 24/7. There’s no need to use up arable or populated land.
The space required for all these solar plants would amount to only 20% of the total area of the biggest deserts in the world (area in million sqkm—square kilometres)—Sahara (9.0), Arabia (2.3), Gobi (1.0), Australia (0.65), USA (0.7) and Patagonia (0.6).
If you take my word for it and don’t want to know the calculations behind these statements, please skip the next paragraph.
(The total electricity consumed by the whole world is about 25mn (million) GWH (giga-watt-hours), or about 685,000 GWh per day. Assuming that solar plants operate six hours a day at full-rated capacity, this would need solar plants with a total capacity of about 114,000 GW. Generating this amount of power from solar power plants will require 2.85mn sqkm of the desert for installing solar panels.)
If you look at the map of the world and spot these big deserts—in Australia, China (Gobi), Africa (Sahara) and North/ South America - you will notice that they are located in different time zones, so that at any given hour of the day at least one of them would be in daylight. Ultra-large solar plants in these deserts, supplemented by smaller installations scattered around the globe, will generate enough electricity to power areas that are in the 6am –10pm period.
Okay, so enough solar power is possible, but how to send it around the world?
Every country has an electricity grid covering its entire area. Power plants feed electricity into the grid, and consumers draw power from it. If one country has a massive surplus of power due to its mega solar plant in the desert, it needs to pass on the surplus electricity to the grids of other countries.
For this to happen, grids have to be connected to one another all over the world, creating one worldwide power grid—the G in OWOSOG. This will make electricity produced anywhere in the world available at any other place where it is needed.
The question is: How?
Moving huge quantities of electricity over land is fairly easy, and the technology is well developed. Alternating current (AC) produced by power plants can be stepped up to very high voltages, such as 132,000 volts, and sent along overhead (non-insulated) power lines with fairly small losses.
But sending electricity across an ocean is much more problematic.
You can’t build an overhead power line across an ocean. Hence, it has to be an undersea cable. But you can’t send current through a bare wire under the water. It has to be an insulated cable.
Therein lies the problem.
If you send AC power through an insulated cable over long distances, capacitance develops within the cable, which causes substantial power losses. There is no such problem with DC (direct current) power transmission. Hence, the other option is to convert high-voltage AC power into DC at one end, send it through the cable, and convert it back to AC at the other end. Unfortunately, power losses occur here, too.
Obviously, there are technical issues and, therefore, higher costs. That is why undersea power cables are not frequently seen. The biggest one is the North Sea Link, connecting Norway and the UK through a 720km cable that carries 1.4GW.
But, sending hundreds, even thousands, of GW across the Atlantic, spanning a distance of over 5,000km and sea depth of over 4km, is a much bigger challenge.
But one has to make a start somewhere!
India has announced a plan to consider linking the grids in India and UAE/ Saudi via an undersea power cable. The distance to be covered is quite large—about 1,400km. The quantity of power to be transmitted is also likely to be very large—100+GW. Of course, it is just a plan so far. A feasibility study has to be done first, and then only the actual work may start.
But, just consider the immense possibilities!
Saudi Arabia is two time zones away from India. In fact, sunset at Tinsukia in India is 3.5 hours ahead of sunset in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The sun continues to shine in Jeddah well after most people have finished dinner in Assam.
Move further west, from Saudi Arabia to the Sahara, and solar power can be generated and sent to India until people in the eastern part of India are asleep.
If you think about it, it is clear that generating power by burning fossil fuel, and destroying the environment in the process, is utter madness when the sun sends us far more power than we need, all for free!
So, OWOSOG is imperative—it is a matter of time. It will not happen in our lifetimes, but our grandchildren will see it in their lifetimes.
Don’t believe me? When I was in school, only a few families had telephones and nobody, even in their wildest dreams, could imagine seeing the face of a person in the USA while having a phone conversation, and that too anytime you like, free of cost. Undersea power cables are already there – it is just a matter of scaling up.
Of course, there has to be the money and the political intent to invest in such a long-gestation project, as well as cooperation between countries regarding tariff, access, upkeep of equipment, etc. But, given the will, it can become a reality in the not-too-distant future.
And I am glad India has taken a step, albeit a tiny one, in this direction.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)