Oct. 12, 2011 at 2:21 PM ET
The high peaks of the Himalayas may soon be a beacon for adventurous solar power entrepreneurs, suggests a new study that identified the lofty region as having some of the world's greatest potential to capture energy from the sun.
Other regions not traditionally considered hotbeds of solar power potential include the Andes of South America and Antarctica, note Takashi Oozeki and Yutaka Genchi with the National Institute of Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.
In addition to copious amounts of sunlight, these regions are chillier than the usual suspects such as the southwestern United States and the deserts of North Africa. Colder temps increase the operational efficiency of certain photovoltaic solar cells, which turn sunlight into electricity.
"The Himalayan region is especially attractive because it is near regions with large future energy demands such as China and India," the pair writes in Environmental Science and Technology.
The finding is based on a global analysis of photovoltaic potential that takes into account the effect of ambient temperature, something the team says has not been done before.
Plopping solar cells high up in the rugged mountains will require addressing additional challenges such as building and maintaining the transmission infrastructure to bring the electricity to the cities where it is most needed, the pair notes.
But overcoming those challenges may be worth the hassle especially when factors such as global climate change are added to the equation. China, for example, adds the equivalent of two 500 MW coal fired power plants per week, according to a 2007 MIT report.
"Because CO2 emissions per unit electricity in China and India are larger than those in the developed countries, using PV energy in these regions could have a large mitigation effect on climate change," write Oozeki and Genchi.
Big solar in Antarctica, the team adds, doesn't make much sense — at least with current technology — given the low population there and the fact that it's dark for half the year.
"If some way can be developed to store the generated energy, e.g. in the form of hydrogen or refined metals, then it may be possible to utilize the large potential in this region in the future," the team notes.
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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com.