Solar Farms in the Sahara: Problems and Possibilities

A giant solar panel farm in the Sahara Desert could save our planet -- but is it even possible?


In order to be effective, require two things – adequate space and direct access to plenty of sunlight. Researchers in the field have been trying to come up with ways to maximize the space used for solar panels, such as with rooftop installations and community solar gardens. To capture the most sunlight, in the United States are built in regions that are particularly sunny, such as in California and Hawaii.  

Both solar energy experts and novices have proposed that building a giant in the is an option that should be explored, especially in light of the successes of solar farms in particular regions across the United States. Research has even revealed that if we were to cover just over one percent of the Desert with solar panels, enough energy could be generated to meet the power needs of the entire world. Although on the surface a global solar farm in the Sahara may sound like a great idea, there are several inherent problems that will need to be addressed if this plan is to move forward in any sort of realistic capacity. 

Unintended Climate Change  

The first issue, believe it or not, is likely climate change in the Sahara Desert. While we often think of solar panels as helping to stop climate change, with enough solar panels working in tandem in the right spot, the climate in that region can shift. This is especially true for the Sahara Desert. With a series of solar panels spread out across the desert, these panels would provide shade to the ground below. Over time, this will cause vegetation in the area to thrive where it could not before. With the presence of more greenery in the desert, as well as the reflection of heat and light from the solar panels themselves back into the air, precipitation in the region would increase. Although increased vegetation and precipitation may be helpful for the Sahara Desert in some aspects, it is impossible to tell if an extreme change in the climate will occur and if it will ultimately impact the solar energy generation in that area. 

Transporting Captured Energy 

The second major issue involves transporting energy that would be captured by the solar panels. The energy generated by a solar farm in the Sahara Desert will be useless if we have no sure way to get that energy to citizens around the world. Some researchers have proposed attempting to get the solar energy to Europe or local, smaller African villages first, if a solar farm in the Sahara were to be built. However, the electrical grids currently in place in northern Africa are not reliable. Not to mention, transporting energy over long distances can lead to power losses of up to 10 percent. Constructing a reliable transportation system that is ultimately cost-effective will be no easy task, especially with a solar farm built in a location as remote and destitute as the Sahara Desert. 

Financial Issues 

The third and final major issue with building a world-saving solar farm in the Sahara Desert is its overall cost. Who will ultimately pay for the solar panels themselves, the labor and cost of installation, the necessary transportation systems required to ship that solar energy worldwide, the losses accumulated financially from transporting the solar energy, as well as the employees to keep a brand-new solar farm running smoothly? Strictly looking at the situation financially raises a multitude of questions and concerns. With how many countries are likely to be involved in the construction of a solar farm in the Sahara Desert, global cooperation and financing will likely be required on multiple levels. 

Starting Small 

In order to achieve any kind of global solar power generation, we must start small. Solar energy researchers have suggested beginning this endeavor locally, by transporting solar energy generated in the Sahara to villages in that region. Before we can discuss the logistics of worldwide solar power that is generated solely by single, hypothetical solar farm in the middle of the desert, we need to work out the issues present in the solar energy generation itself in a desert setting. Although the possibility of global solar energy generation is exciting and even necessary, we must move forward in ways that are logical and cost-effective. Until the kinks can be ironed out of the plans for a solar farm in the Sahara Desert, the full manifestation of a global solar farm is still far in the future.  



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