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Wind, Solar Farms In Sahara Could Make The Desert Green And Save The Region

Sep 10, 2018 07:55 PM EDT
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For a long time, the Sahara Desert has been one of the largest, driest expanses of land in the entire world.

It doesn't have to stay dry forever, though, if scientists have anything to say about it. New research shows that there is a way to transform the uninhabitable desert into a greener oasis that would yield great benefits to the arid region.

A 'Greener' Sahara

The answer, the researchers say in a new study published in the journal Science, are large-scale wind and solar farms in the famous Sahara Desert. According to the team's new climate model, such farms will not only provide clean energy for a good chunk of the global population but also yield greater rainfall and consequently more vegetation in the region.

Yan Li, the lead author of the study, reveals in a statement that this is one of the first studies to explore both the climate effects and the effects on vegetation of wind and solar installations. Other modeling studies have analyzed whether such farms could produce significant effects on climate change, but Li adds that neglecting the responses of vegetation growth could make a model inaccurate.

The model shows that wind farms facilitated greater regional warming near the surface due to the wind turbines bringing down the warmer air from up high.

Precipitation and rainfall increase significantly in regions where wind farms are located, which leads to greater vegetation that in turn causes more precipitation — a positive feedback loop that could bring about incredible benefits to the Sahara and surrounding lands.

"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," Safa Motesharrei, co-author of the study, says.

Energy From The World's Largest Desert

For such an undertaking, any desert would do, but the team opted to use Sahara Desert for their model due to its size and proximity to rising energy consumers.

"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," Li, a postdoctoral researcher in natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois, continues.

The team's simulations include wind and solar farms that span a total of roughly 9 million square kilometers. This is expected to generate an average of 3 terawatts of wind power and 79 terawatts of solar power.

As Li points out, this is more than enough to cover the world's electrical needs, as the global energy demand in 2017 was only 18 terawatts.

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