Futuristic InnovationsWhat If the Sahara Desert Was Completely Covered With...

What If the Sahara Desert Was Completely Covered With Solar Panels?

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For years, the Sahara Desert has been heralded as one of the most inhospitable places in the world. It’s filled with dunes, and sunlight doesn’t mix! But could it be that inhospitable? The Sahara Desert is home to the world’s most amazing renewable energy potential. According to reports, an estimated 70,000 solar panels are operating in some parts of North Africa.

This article will explore what would happen if these panels were spread evenly across the surface of the Sahara Desert — and how much energy they would produce.

What if the Sahara Desert Had Solar Panels?

Theoretically, the energy we could produce with the panels would be more than enough to power the entire North African coast. The only limit would be the ability of the panels to withstand the harsh desert environment.

The technology for large-scale solar panels is still in its infancy, but there are ways that we can apply this technology to the desert. Solar panels are made to be deployed on roofs, not the open desert. The panels would need to be elevated above the ground and protected from the elements, not to mention the view from above.

Over 70,000 Solar Panels Operate Here

This report estimates the total potential generating capacity of solar panels operating in some parts of North Africa at 70,000 megawatts (MW). The solar energy potential of the Sahara Desert is estimated to be about 50,000 MW. It has an estimated power potential of roughly 4,500 gigawatts (GW) across the desert surface.

If we spread the potential generating capacity of solar panels evenly across the surface of the desert, the total amount of energy generated would be 24,875 GWh. It equates to the energy production of roughly 7,900 gigawatt-hours (GWh) or 740 Megawatt-days (MWh) over 24 months. Over a year, this energy production would comfortably power about 200,000 average-sized houses.

Photo By: Ivars Krutainis / Unsplash

How Much Energy Would Be Produced By These Panels?

The energy generated by solar panels is determined by several factors such as weather conditions, the distance of the panels from the Earth’s surface, and the amount of sun-drenched area. A desert surface has less light absorption than a forest or grassland surface. It means that the energy generated by photovoltaic panels will be higher in areas where trees and other plants have been cleared, and land has been converted to farmland.

Politics can also alter the energy generated by solar panels. Countries such as Germany and Spain have installed large-scale solar panels without bothering to secure the necessary permissions from local communities.

The Sahara Desert Could Have an Energy Transition Ready for Tomorrow.

The energy transition is a process that will occur as the energy-poor developing world transitions to an energy-fuelled economy. We can accelerate this process through policy interventions such as building power grids and improved transport systems. There are several areas of the desert where building solar panels would have a negligible impact on the current landscape.

The Sahara is not only a desert but also some of the most volatile political environments in the world. It will be tough to integrate large-scale solar panels in this volatile environment.

The Challenges

We would sell the electricity generated by the panels to the national grid. The potential for grid-connected solar power is enormous, but the challenges of integrating such power into the existing power grid are also enormous. The first challenge is the distance of the panels from the existing power grid.

The panels need to be placed close to the transmission lines to connect to the national grid. But where to place them? The second challenge is resource availability. The national grid can easily support electricity production from renewable sources such as wind, water, and solar power. But energy demand growth in developing countries, which is expected to grow faster than in the developed world, will make this energy supply scarce. The availability of energy will determine the success of the project and the amount of energy generated.

Photo By : Juli Kosolapova / Unsplash

The Environmental and Societal benefits

The desert is the most implacable barrier to human progress. It is a physical, environmental and social barrier that we must overcome. The Sahara Desert could be the most critical environmental step forward in human history. The Sahara provides a tremendous potential source of renewable energy.

The Sahara could be crucial to achieving a low-carbon, sustainable, secure future for all. The capacity of the wind and solar panels at Bénac would be more than adequate to meet the energy needs of a large city.

What Would Happen to Global Temperatures?

The Sahara Desert is one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. With such a diverse environment comes diversity in plant and animal life. The plants and animals in the desert need reliable and consistent access to sunlight to survive. The solar panels could provide this lighting, and as the panels get closer to the surface of the desert, the lower wind speeds will cause the energy to be more evenly distributed.

The higher the wind speeds, the more energy is lost through the air. It will radiate this energy back to space. It is why the Sahara Desert could impact global climate change, but only if the panels were placed in the right place. If we sent the electricity to the cities, then the impact on the climate would be negligible.

The Sahara Desert is One of the Most Climate-Resilient Environments

The Sahara has a lot to offer; it’s drier than the Great Plains, for example, and receives much less rain than the Amazon. The arid nature of the desert means it’s relatively free of carbon emissions and has a relatively high level of ecosystem health. One study found that the lack of rain in the Sahara was a net positive in protecting the environment.

The great thing about solar panels is that they generate electricity without polluting the air or water. They can be placed where they cannot be seen from the ground, like behind rocks or dunes. It makes it more difficult for would-be thieves to steal the panels. Consequently, the Sahara is the perfect place to try out solar panels.

Why Solar Panels in the Sahara Desert Could Work

The Sahara is a challenging environment for solar panels in many ways. First, the surface must be relatively level, as the panels need to be mounted on the sloped ground would cause significant power loss. The second issue is that the dunes in the desert are usually very steep, with steep ground surface drainage problems. It means there is even less space for solar panels to lie in than on the level ground.

How to Achieve Climate Resilience in the Sahara Desert

The first thing to do is evaluate your location and decide if you want to attempt to achieve climate resilience in the desert. You must know your ground surface drainage and ground-level weather patterns to do this. If you want to be scientific, you could also use remote sensors to detect precipitation and temperature and generate virtual weather that includes precipitation and air pressure patterns to predict future weather patterns.

Another thing to remember is that the Sahara has inferior land use. The vast majority of the Earth’s surface is used for agriculture, so what happens in the Sahara affects the rest of the world.

Photo By: Keith Hardy
/ Unsplash

Who Would Benefit From a Covered Desert?

People who live in areas with frequent and intense rainfall would benefit from a solar-covered desert. For example, in the parts of the Amazon where rain is rare or non-existent, it’s possible to survive without electricity or running water for months. A covered desert would allow for year-round sunlight in these areas, eliminating the need for artificial lights and less pollution from vehicle fumes.

How Much Energy Would Be Consumed?

The amount of energy consumed by a covered dessert is directly related to its size. The more energy it covers the more area the panels. Consider a covered 30×30 meter area with 30 solar panels. It would use up 30,000 KW of electricity and produce a total of 3000tons of greenhouse gas emissions. There would be no power or greenhouse gas emissions in the same area with no cover.

An Opportunity with Humans on Edge

The idea of a covered desert is somewhat utopian but not entirely unrealistic. One way to make sense of the possibilities is to think of it as a test bed for new technologies. The idea is that farmers in this area would try out new farming techniques and sustainable practices that we could use elsewhere. The panels could even help farmers improve their practices by adjusting the amount of sunlight to suit the crop yields.

Photo By: Wolfgang Hasselmann
/ Unsplash

How Would Solar Panels Work in the Sahara Desert?

In the Sahara Desert, bringing solar panels up to scratch is particularly challenging. The surface has to be very hard, like rock or concrete, to prevent water from running off it and causing flooding. It’s also got to be very sandy since that’s where the panels would be placed. The solution is to use a different type of power supply to the one used in the desert.

In the desert, a wired electricity supply would work fine, but bringing electricity down to a village or city in the mountains is harder. The solution is to use an energy grid that is less attractive to the eye, less intrusive, and less power-consuming. The solar panels could be connected to the grid, as they are now in parts of Asia, to power the machinery that plants the crops.

Where Will the Energy Come From?

The energy needed to cover the Sahara Desert would come from the sun, but there is a catch. It would generate the energy in the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) range, which would be too powerful for human eyes to detect. The UV rays are around 100 times less energetic than the visible part of the spectrum and are not perceived by the human body as a source of energy.

It means that, in theory, solar panels could be placed in the Sahara Desert and covered with a layer of mirrors to reflect the UV rays to the ground, but this would be very expensive and would require a lot of technology. The proposal is to cover the panels with unique material, like a polymer film, so they can absorb more light without being so dark that the human eye can’t detect it.

The Drawbacks of a Solar-Covered Desert

The biggest downside to the idea of a covered desert is the degradation of the environment. While it would be possible to reduce the land area needed to generate power dramatically, the energy required would go up drastically. And carbon emissions from fossil fuels would still have to be considered. Besides, it’s unclear whether the actual amount of sunlight that would reach the ground would be enough to power a large city.

Even though the Sahara Desert is one of the largest deserts in the world, it still only makes up about 2% of Earth’s land surface. In most places, there would be very little difference between the amount of solar energy reaching the ground and the amount reaching the top of the pyramid. The other main issue is the cost of covering the desert with panels. It’s unclear how much this would add to the cost of solar energy, but it’s unlikely that we could do it without raising power prices.

Final Words

The potential of renewable energy has long been recognized, but the potential of large-scale solar Panels has been largely overlooked. With the right location, design, and planning, large-scale solar panels could power an entire city. In theory, the energy and greenhouse gas emissions generated would be almost identical.

The only limit would be the ability of the panels to withstand the harsh desert environment. This article has explored how large-scale solar panels could power an entire city in the Sahara Desert. The potential of renewable energy is endless, and the Sahara Desert is only the beginning.

 

If you liked this, check out Exploring the Murky World of Parallel Universes: Are We Living In A Multiverse?

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