Solar panels on Sahara Desert: Good Global Move?
As nations find solutions to the climate crisis, many call for solar panels on the Sahara Desert. Is this a wise move?
Sun striking the earth, Credit, Lunar and Planetary Institute
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the sun strikes the surface of the earth at the rate of more than 120,000 terawatts. It strikes the earth at the equivalent to the performance of one hundred million large nuclear plants, amounting to 7,700 times the entire global energy demand in 2006. It strikes the earth with so much energy that it could enable mankind harvest many times the amount of the energy it needs, the amount of power needed for billions of global households, the amount of electricity required for people to live the kind of life they are accustomed to maintaining.
Greenpeace, the international environmental protection group, agrees with the prospects. According to the group, the sun offers a boundless potential as a source of energy, as a factor enabling the stoppage of the use of coal as a source of energy. The sun could be utilised to meet the world’s current energy needs, as a means to derive energy without carbon emissions, without harm to the already harmful climate. The sun provides a solution the menace of climate change, to the challenge brought by the diminishing forests, to the depletion of valuable animals.
The Sahara Desert, Credit, TED Ideas
The Sahara’s reputation rests of the fact that it is the largest hot desert on earth, and both Greenpeace and IEA see it as a tool to exploit the energy from the sun. Since a high sunshine radiation level abounds in the desert, this provides a boundless potential for use as a source of energy through the harvest of solar power. Since silicon pervades the desert, mankind could get many times the amount of energy it needs, as silicon counts itself among the raw materials for semi conductors in the manufacture of solar cells. Since just one percent of the desert’s surface could meet the world’s current energy needs, the situation allows mankind to exploit it for renewable energy, by transforming the world’s largest desert into a giant solar field, by installing large solar plants, by encouraging Europe and North America to create a stronger political and financial instrument to help solar technology get off the ground in Africa.
Surface of solar panels, Credit, Quora
The idea of using the Sahara Desert to generate solar power sounds compelling, unless you ignore a few findings about such an ambitious move. According to the findings, the black surface of solar panels absorbs most of the sunlight reaching them. In the findings, only 15 percent of the incoming heat gets converted to energy. In the findings, the excess heat bounces off the panels to the atmosphere, with the difference of heat between the solar panels and the ground also creating a difference between land and the surrounding ocean, lowering pressure and causing moist air to rise and condense as moisture and ultimately allowing plants to sprout once again on the desert.
The Amazon Forest, Credit, Popular Mechanics
Unfortunately, the story begins here. The heat difference in the Sahara won’t stop here. The heat in the Sahara, according to findings, could spread around the globe through the atmosphere and ocean currents. The heat from the Sahara could get to the Polar Regions, changing it, through the increased heat impacting on it. The heat from the Sahara could reach the Amazon Forest, affecting the precipitation pattern of its rainfall, as well as impacting on the Congo Basin, transforming its temperature.
The laying of solar panels in the Sahara, therefore, could transform the temperature and precipitation patterns of numerous places. The heat generated could spread through the globe, egged on by the atmosphere and ocean currents, causing unintended consequences. It could spread to the Polar Regions and the Amazon Forest, impacting on the oceans, reenacting the situation when the Sahara Desert was green during the African humid period 5,000 years ago.
Melting ice, Credit, Harvard Gazette
In plain terms, once the heat increases in the Sahara, it could also increase in the Polar Regions, possibly leading to ice loss in the Arctic. Global warming becomes accelerated, since the melting sea could expose a dark water that absorbs much more solar energy. Once the heat rises in the Sahara Desert, the global air and ocean current could become reordered. Once this happens, precipitation on a worldwide basis could become affected. For example, the heavy band of rainfall in the tropics, according to the findings, shifts northwards. With rainfall shifting northwards and with the rising heat, droughts could become prevalent in the tropics.
Unfortunately, the consequences could become harsher. Rainfall accounts for more than 30 percent of global precipitation. It accounts for a lot of the rainfalls in the Congo Basin, which contains one of the most important carbon stocks in the world. It accounts for the sustainability of the Amazon Forest, which plays an important part in maintaining the global environmental balance, through its tree covers, and networks of rivers. With the rainfall shifting northwards, the role of the Amazon and the Congo Basin in maintaining a global environmental balance could be jeopardized, as they too could be affected by the droughts from the decreased rate of rainfalls.
Carbon stock in the Congo Basin, Credit, ResearchGate
In essence, the laying of solar panels in large areas of the Sahara could prevent the Amazon from performing its role in maintaining a global environmental balance. It could prevent the Congo from doing the same thing, putting its flora and fauna at a great risk. It could prevent the Arctic from doing the same thing, especially with the melting ice exposing the dark water that absorbs lots of solar energy. With the Arctic and the Amazon and the Congo Basin prevented from maintaining the global environmental balance, the issue of laying a large amount of solar panels in the Sahara becomes debatable.
The findings also reveal another dimension of the issue. Deserts blow dust. The Sahara Desert blows dust, carried by the wind to lots of places. It blows dust to the Atlantic Ocean, which uses it as a source of nutrients. It also blows dust to the Amazon, which utilizes the materials for its trees, enriching the soil with vital elements. The solar panels in the Sahara could make the vast expanse there green, preventing the wind from carrying dust from it.
Apart from this, scientists say while rain could fall with a greater frequency in the Sahara with the solar panels, other places could experience also the rise in the quantity of rainfall. Models predict frequent tropical cyclones on the East Asian coast, far more than what currently occurs in this critical period of climate change. They predict numerous cases of tropical cyclones in other places in the world, with the rising precipitation impacting on the climate.
In other words, the use of solar panels on the Sahara may not provide localized results. It may be an event to bring tropical cyclones to East Asia. It may be an event to bring tropical cyclones to North America, creating big climate events than even simulations of scientists suggest. It may be an event to bring drought to the Amazon and the Congo basin, possibly destroying the rain forests there once and for all, creating drought, affecting the maintenance of a global environmental balance. When the laying of solar panels in the Sahara threatens to disrupt global environmental balance, questions arise in the minds of many.
Plainly, the placing of solar panels in the Sahara may help in the transition from fossil fuel. The move may accelerate the utilization of renewable energy, cutting back on the dependence on coal for energy. The idea should tackle many aspects pertaining to climate change, such as the reduction of greenhouse gasses, the slashing of forest areas, the depletion of non-renewable resources. The project could be useful, because it involves the use of simple technology, cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions by 4.7 billion tons by 2050, a reduction equivalent to six times the current volumes of German carbon dioxide emissions.
Desert to Power Initiative, Credit, Afrik 21
Obviously, too, it could benefit Africa. Already, the Africa Development Bank, knowing it could benefit Africa, plans a similar project, the Desert-to-Power Initiative. The project intends to generate 10 GW of solar energy by 2030. Nations such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger intend to participate in it, an initiative to mobilise $966 million over a seven-year implementation period. The project intends to connect millions of people in Africa, curb poverty through increased energy supply, curb environmental degradation, curb unemployment, and curb migration.
But based on the possible impact of the laying of solar panels in the Sahara, civil society organizations should call for more understanding on how the project could ultimately curb poverty and environmental degradation. Scientists should examine thoroughly the benefits and risks involved, so environmental degradation doesn’t affect Africa in the long run through the project, in the same way oil exploration devastates many parts of the continent. Governments should carefully weigh the risks involved in the laying of the solar panels on the world’s most forbidding desert, to prevent the risk of a possible disaster, so we can escape the harm from wanting to harvest some of the 120,000 terawatts the sun throws to the earth.