Quantcast
Energy
Pallava Bagla / Corbis Historica / Getty Images

Sahara Wind and Solar Farms Could Green the Desert in More Ways Than One

Renewable energy installations like wind turbines or solar panels can be an important part of fighting climate change by providing energy that does not require the burning of fossil fuels.


But models have shown that large solar or wind farms could also change the climate directly by their presence.

Now, a group of scientists led by researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois set out to model what would happen if solar and wind farms large enough to power the planet were installed in the Sahara desert, and uncovered a form of climate change that might actually help more than it hurts.

The results, published Friday in Science, found that the installations would increase rainfall and vegetation in the Sahara and neighboring Sahel region, which lies between the Sahara and the Sudanian Savanna, making them a potential net positive for the region and the planet.

"The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions," study author Safa Motesharrei said in a University of Illinois press release published by ScienceDaily.

The researchers focused on the Sahara because it is an ideal location for such an ambitions renewable energy scheme.

"We chose it because it is the largest desert in the world; it is sparsely inhabited; it is highly sensitive to land changes; and it is in Africa and close to Europe and the Middle East, all of which have large and growing energy demands," lead author Yan Li said.

The study found that wind farms would increase rainfall because they would both increase temperature by drawing warm air down at night and decrease wind speed by creating more friction. This would lead to a doubling of rainfall where wind farms were installed.

The solar farms would increase rainfall by reducing albedo, the amount of light reflected by the land, which in turn would increase precipitation.

In both cases, researchers found that precipitation would increase vegetation, which would reduce albedo further, leading to more precipitation. The effect was increased if both solar and wind farms were installed.

Study author Daniel Kirk-Davidoff told AFP that the effect would not be that dramatic in the grand scheme of things—the desert would stay dry—but that the additional vegetation in the region's south would make an important difference for the people living there because it would increase grazing opportunities.

"It is hard to imagine that this would be a bad thing from the point of view of human communities there," he said.

While local temperature increases were part of the projected impact of the installations, the researchers made clear that those changes would stay in the Sahara and Sahel, not spread around the world like the global warming caused by greenhouse gasses, AFP reported.

One element that separated the study from previous research was its focus on vegetation, Li said in the University of Illinois press release, since most studies that have looked at the impact of solar or wind installations on climate have not also looked at how those climate changes would impact vegetation, or how the changed vegetation would then change the climate.

"Previous modeling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change at continental scales," Li said. "But the lack of vegetation feedbacks could make the modeled climate impacts very different from their actual behavior."

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Health
A smoky haze obstructs the view of the San Francisco skyline on Aug. 24 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Smoke Is a Big Health Risk as California Wildfires Rage On

By Nneka Leiba

Deadly wildfires continue to blaze in Northern and Southern California. Dozens of people are dead, hundreds more missing and entire communities have been destroyed.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Leela Cyd / Photolibrary / Getty Images

EPA Finds Replacements for Toxic 'Teflon' Chemicals Toxic

By Anna Reade

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released draft toxicity assessments for GenX chemicals and PFBS, both members of a larger group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). GenX and PFBS are being used as replacement chemicals for PFOA and PFOS, the original Teflon chemicals that were forced off the market due to their decades-long persistence in the environment and their link to serious health harms in exposed people and wildlife.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
Demonstrators at the Earth Day March for Science Rally on April 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images

New Report Details Trump's Destructive War on Science—And How the New Congress Can Fight Back

By Jessica Corbett

A coalition of watchdog and advocacy organizations on Thursday released a new report detailing the Trump administration's nearly two-year war on science and how Congress can fight back.

Produced by 16 groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Defenders of Wildlife and Greenpeace, Protecting Science at Federal Agencies: How Congress Can Help argues that while "scientific integrity at federal agencies has eroded" under President Donald Trump, "Congress has the power to halt and repair damage from federal agencies' current disregard for scientific evidence."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Downtown Houston surrounded by flooding and mist after Hurricane Harvey. Prairie Pictures / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Houston’s Tall Buildings and Concrete Sprawl Made Harvey’s Rain and Flooding Worse

The science is clear that in order to prevent more extreme weather events like hurricanes, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Thursday, EcoWatch reported on a study that found major hurricanes in the past decade were made five to 10 percent wetter because of global warming, and another study last year calculated that the record rainfall that flooded Texas during Hurricane Harvey was made three times more likely due to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Roundup for sale at a hardware store in San Rafael, CA, on July, 9. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

Second CA Glyphosate Trial Scheduled for Elderly Couple in Declining Health

The first trial claiming long-term use of Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer ended with a $289 million jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, though that was later reduced by a judge to $78 million.

Now, Monsanto's next date in the judgment seat in California has been set for March 18.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. NASA

Not Enough Ice to Drill the Arctic! Offshore Oil Drilling a 'Disaster Waiting to Happen'

Last month, the Trump administration approved the first offshore oil drilling development in federal Arctic waters, which environmentalists fear will ramp up carbon pollution that fuels climate change.

But here's the ultimate irony: Hilcorp Alaska's project—which involves building a 9-acre artificial drilling island in the shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea—has been delayed because of the effects of climate change, Alaska Public Media reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Dominion Energy's headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. VCU CNS

Cash Buys Elections—and Continued Fossil Fuel Dominance

By Wenonah Hauter

Last week, the fossil fuel industry successfully squashed several local measures it didn't like—thanks to the more than $100 million it shelled out to oppose them.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!