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Sunshine mapping from space means brighter solar energy future

How sunny is it outside right now not just locally but all across Europe and Africa? Answering this question is at the heart of many weather-related business activities: solar power and the wider energy sector, architecture and construction, tourism, even health care. Today accurate and continent-wide scale measurements of ground radiances are provided every 15 minutes by ESA's Meteosat Second Generation satellite.

Integrating this information with the business practices of solar energy managers is the objective of the ENVISOLAR project (Environmental Information Services for Solar Energy Industries), funded by ESA within the framework of the Earth Observation Market Development Programme (EOMD).

Solar energy has switched from a green aspiration to a solid business. The solar market in photovoltaics the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity has an annual turnover of 600 million euros in Germany and 1000 million euros in the rest of Europe. The latter figure is predicted to increase to 2500 million euros by this decade's end. Furthermore, thousands of megawatt of renewable energy potential are also available in Africa, Asia and Central America as shown by the Solar & Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA) project of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

There are two kinds of solar energy establishments: solar thermal plants which concentrate heat from the Sun, and photovoltaic plants that convert sunlight into electricity.

In both cases precise, long-term irradiance data is needed for choosing plant locations and estimates of likely energy yield for prospective investors. Then once a plant is built, managers need data updated in near real-time to check the facility is working optimally, and energy output tallies with available sunshine.

"Today our audits form the basis of huge investments in the range of 50 million euros for single projects," explains Gerd Heilscher from Meteocontrol, a company auditing photovoltai
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-06-941-80-856
European Space Agency
29-Jun-2005


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