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Solar Farms Unintended Effects

What's going on here?

  • Researchers discovered that creating giant solar panel farms in the Sahara Desert might paradoxically worsen climate change. Covering 10-20% of the Desert with solar panels might increase the temperature and humidity of the surrounding area, and facilitate vegetation growth. This might convert the hostile and inhabitable desert into a more hospitable environment, allowing for new life to thrive.


  • However, the global impact of these changes will offset the regional benefits. The rise in the regional temperatures will also increase the world's average temperature, causing sea levels to rise in the Arctic circle, and cause heavy rainfalls in the tropics, including more regular cyclones in the North American and East Asian coasts.

Highlights:

  • Ten of the largest solar panels are located in deserts and dry regions such as the Enel Villanueva PV Plant in Mexico, Tengger Desert Solar Park in China, and Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park in India.

  • Scientists believed that a huge solar panel farm that covered the entire Sahara Desert could produce 4 times the amount of clean energy needed to meet the world's demand.

  • Solar panels absorb most of the light energy that reaches them from the sun however, only 15% of that is converted into electricity. The rest converts into heat energy, which can affect the climate globally.

  • Humidity and vegetation in the Sahara Desert is not a new phenomenon - During the African Humid Period, the Desert was covered with trees, lakes, and grass.

  • According to scientists and researchers, covering:

    • 20% of the Sahara with solar farms will raise the desert temperatures by 1.5°C.

    • 50% of the Sahara, the temperature will increase by 2.5°C.

  • At the same time, this will spread and warm-up other parts of the world:

    • At 20% coverage, global average temperatures will rise by 0.16°C

    • At 50% coverage, global average temperatures will rise by 0.39°C

Useful Vocabulary:

  • temperature shifts are not uniform throughout the globe: temperature changes will affect different parts of the globe differently

  • albedo: "albedo" is used to measure how well surfaces reflect the sun. For example, sand has a high albedo.

  • hostile environments: This means that the environments are not habitable by humans and most living organisms.

  • remote parts of land and sea: parts of the land and sea that are not typically inhabited by humans and most living organisms.

  • absorb - water absorbs a lot of solar energy

  • generate - a giant solar farm could generate ample energy to meet global demand

  • emit - The heat emitted by the darker solar panels

  • unearth - discover

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since learning about the unintended effect of solar panel farms, do you think many efforts to slow down climate change have similar unintended negative consequences? If yes, why? Can you list some of these efforts? If no, why not?

  2. In your opinion, what could be done to reduce the unintended effect mentioned in the article?

  3. How should governments around the world respond to the intended consequences of giant solar panel farms? Should the international community be concerned and involved? Or should it be the sole responsibility of the local governments that share the Sahara Desert (they are Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia)?

What are your thoughts on these questions and the article?

Leave your comments down below!


Main Source:

  • Inverse, "Scientists Unearth a Consequence of Solar Panels in the Sahara."

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