Could desert-based renewables bring rain to the Sahara?

Big wind solar farms could boost rain in Sahara desert

Harnessing the power of the Sun beating down on our planet and using that power to solve our energy concerns seems like a no-brainer, and what better place to build a light-gobbling facility than the Sahara Desert?

Wind and solar farms simulated in the study, conducted at the Sahara Desert because of its scale, lack of inhabitation and sensitivity to land changes, would cover more than 9 million square kilometres, according to the researchers.

One of the researchers, Eugenia Kalnay, who is an atmospheric scientist from the University of Maryland, said that they had found out, the massive installation of solar as well as wind farms can bring more amount of rainfall and hence promote the growth of vegetation in all these regions.

That's a lot of energy.

The model revealed wind farms caused regional warming of near-surface air temperature, with greater changes in minimum temperatures than maximum temperatures.

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.

The Sahara Desert could get a lot more rain if the region had more wind and solar farms.

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"We found that the large-scale installation of solar and wind farms can bring more rainfall and promote vegetation growth in these regions", Eugenia Kalnay, one of the co-authors of the paper, told the University of IL.

"This was a doubling of precipitation over that seen in the control experiments", Li said.

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

Overall, researchers found that any changes in the African desert climate resulting from wind and solar power installations would be positive, because more plants would grow near where the farms are placed.

Lead author Dr Yan Li, of the University of IL, said: 'Previous modelling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change at continental scales.

That's according to a new study led by Yan Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of IL, which suggests the presence of renewable infrastructure on the desert floor would create a local temperature increase, in turn resulting in increased surface friction and reduced albedo, which refers to reflectivity.

Wind turbines would pull warmer air down to the surface while the solar panels help to reduce surface reflectiveness, both of which are known to increase rainfall, the study explained, turning the arid landscape into a global mean, green, renewable machine.

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