Sahara desert is the largest desert globally, extending across several countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Egypt, Mali, Sudan, and Mauritania. Energy experts say installing giant solar panels in the desert could harvest enough power to meet the world’s energy needs. However, this discovery is not about solving all of the world’s green energy and climate change problems. To understand the paradox, you have to understand how solar panels work. The dark surfaces of solar panels absorb most of the sunlight that reaches the surface, but only 15% of the sunlight is converted to electric power. The remaining seventy-five percent is emitted back to the atmosphere.
Therefore, if giant solar panels were to cover the vast and wide African desert, the repercussions would be heightened temperatures, which would consequently change the climate of surrounding areas and the global climate. The heat from these solar plants would be carried across the world by winds and ocean movements, thus affecting other areas. Normally, the white sands in the Sahara reflect the sunlight; thus, the temperature is relatively bearable. Researchers have already designed plans that would be used to harvest solar power in Morocco and Tunisia. A study carried out in 2018 indicated that installing large solar farms would create a temperature difference between the desert and surrounding areas.
The model used in the study evaluated the effects of lower albedo on the land surface caused by solar power plants. When the solar power coverage size was 20% of the desert, the heat difference between land and ocean caused a drop in surface air pressure causing moist air to rise, condense, and fall as rainfall. The presence of rainfall influenced the growth of vegetation. With more vegetation cover, sun rays are absorbed, and the plants evaporate more moisture, thus creating a humid environment. While this model shows a great conversion of a desert to an oasis, experts are not happy about the discovery.
Solar farms could convert the desert to greener land, but this would be at the expense of remote parts of the land and ocean. If 20% of the Sahara is covered in solar panels, the local temperature rises by 1.5 degrees Celsius; when this coverage is raised to 50%, the temperature increases by 2.5 degrees Celsius. These high temperatures are spread around the different world regions by the flow of air and ocean currents. This would raise the world temperature by 0.39. The effects of this rise would be reflected in the polar region, where polar ice would melt and raise sea levels. The melted ice would also give rise to dark waters that absorb more solar energy, thereby shifting the world’s climates.
The increased heat around the globe also affects precipitation resulting in irregular rainfall in the tropics. This would cause prolonged dry periods in the Amazon forest and Congo region. The study also indicated that increased heat in the Sahara could cause more frequent cyclones in North America and East Asia coastline. Such studies reveal the upsides and downsides of the green energy solutions being adopted by countries. In the future, energy experts will need to evaluate their projects’ overall impact to ensure responses to the environment are more beneficial than risky.