Clean Energy from the Sahara


When picturing the Sahara desert people usually think about barren, windswept dunes. There is minimal water available and wildlife, and life, in general, is rather scarce. Scientists, on the other hand, see the potential for resolving the impending energy crisis. Additionally, everything they have in planned could lead to rainfall in one of the biggest deserts in the world.

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In a recently published paper, researchers found that building wind and solar farms across the Sahara could lead to the production of large amounts of energy which could be used across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Also, the climate could go through some changes as well, namely in addition to the increase in heat, an increase in precipitation and vegetation may also occur. Early predictions state that rainfall can double for the entire region. Vegetation can increase by a staggering 20 percent as well.

How Can Humanity Accomplish This

The Sahara covers approximately 3.5 million square miles. Scientist used computer models and the amount of green that can be created by building wind and solar farms is impressive. When looking at computer simulations, placing wind turbines a mile apart and covering 20 percent of the desert with solar panels produced smaller climate impacts.

When they covered parts of the desert with dark solar panels the sun bounced less off the Saharan sand. This created an increase in precipitation eventhough it increased the temperature as well. When the warmer air rose to parts of the atmosphere where it is cooler moisture condenses and falls as rain.

Logically, with more rain, vegetation started growing back popping up between the turbines and the solar panels.

According to the simulations the solar farms produced 79 terawatts of power on average while the wind farms produced 3 terawatts. All of this is achieved without producing any greenhouse gas. According to statistics in the last year, the entire world used around 18 terawatts.

The issue is that you cannot build massive solar and wind farms overnight. For that exact reason, researchers used a period of a 100 years of build up and then a 100 years after the farms were built.

If the farms were to be built immediately we would already be able to see the effects on the atmosphere. But other effects related to precipitation and vegetation growth may take some time. This is because vegetation needs time to grow. The overall effect may be felt as the number of plants and farms grows.

What Has History Taught Us? 

This is not the first time researchers are toying with this kind of idea. Human civilization has already altered the Sahara deserts climate before. It was much greener and wetter than today.

The first time we influenced the climate in the Sahara dates back more than 4000 years. Cattle herders occupied the region, and their cattle ate up most of the vegetation increasing albedo and speeding up the change from a wet and moist Sahara to the one we are familiar today.

Because of this, the researchers advise that a cautionary approach should be taken when tampering with the Saharas current climate. Without proper planning, this could do more harm than good. If done correctly this could potentially give us a better chance of sustaining life on the planet and improving the overall quality of life for everyone involved.

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