Solar plan to power half the world ‘could turn Sahara green’

Rob Waugh
Le paysage pourrait reverdir dans le Sahara si des projets monumentaux d’énergies renouvelables voyaient le jour. / BlackNose

The sun-baked desert of the Sahara offers a nearly limitless source of energy using solar panels and wind farms, with one project hoping to power half the world by 2050.

But a new study suggests that not only could renewable plants in the Sahara power the entire world, it could turn the arid African desert green.

A project where the entirety of the Sahara was covered in solar and wind plants (3,500,000 square miles) would generate 79 terawatts of power.

That’s four times the 18 terawatts used by the entire world in 2017.


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But the plants would also have a huge effect on the landscape, with wind turbines pulling warmer air to the surface, while solar panels reduce the reflectiveness of the sand – both of which would increase rainfall.

It would double rainfall and increase vegetation growth by 20%, the researchers believe.

Eugenia Kalnay of the University of Illinois said, ‘We found that the large-scale installation of solar and wind farms can bring more rainfall and promote vegetation growth in these regions.

‘The rainfall increase is a consequence of complex land-atmosphere interactions that occur because solar panels and wind turbines create rougher and darker land surfaces.

Co author Safa Motesharrei said, ‘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.’