April 18, 2021

Why Solar Panels in Sahara may boost renewable energy but damage the global climate

One of the world’s most extensive deserts is the Sahara. And as the planet moves to a phase of delivering clean energy, this place may come to an advantage. Why not when the Sahara desert could be the best place to harvest solar power. It may be uncomfortable to live, but it holds the cleanest and most abundant energy source we can come across. Naturally, deserts are sparsely-populated, rich in silicon, relatively flat, and spacious. Silicon is the material behind the construction of semiconductors that give a hand in making solar cells. Also, deserts are never short of sun rays.

It is also no secret that the ten most giant solar plants worldwide are found in dry regions or deserts. From researchers and energy experts’ different views, the Sahara desert can transform into a massive solar farm. Additional calculations indicate that the desert’s energy is four times the current demand for power in the world. Blueprints are available in Morocco and Tunisia with projects of supplying electricity to millions in Europe.

Black surfaces of solar panels absorb a lot of sunlight, but only a fraction of the solar energy becomes electricity. The rank runs up to 15%. What about the other 85% of solar energy? It is released into the environment as heat. Usually, the panels are a bit darker than the ground, resulting in additional heat release to the environment. And these facts will lead to the damage of the climate.

If we are dealing with local effects, this project is worthy of the consequences and risks since dealing with a sparsely-populated desert. However, this is not the case. Generally, the amount of installations necessary to deliver electric power to the world is enormous. These installations would cover an area of thousands of square kilometers. The heat emitted from such a large area will then be distributed with the airflow. Eventually, these heat releases will lead to regional and global effects.

From a 2018 study on a mission to achieve a greener Sahara, there are effects of lower albedo resulting from installing massive solar farms. Albedo explains the measure of the reflection of sunlight on surfaces. In the study, we learn that with a solar plant, 20% of the Sahara desert size delivers a feedback loop that lowers air pressure, resulting in moist air. These results will lead to moonshine rain, which will help the desert to grow plants.

As much as the plan seems excellent, a recent study shows that solar panels in Sahara will eventually lead to the rise of the world’s temperature. The Sahara desert could become the world’s most significant renewable energy source but could cause more harm than good.