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Science & Technology

Wind turbines could transform the Sahara

By T.K. Randall
September 7, 2018 · Comment icon 30 comments

The Sahara is the ideal place for renewable energy. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5 Luca Galuzzi (
In addition to generating huge amounts of energy, wind and solar power could turn the Sahara desert green.
A recent study has highlighted the benefits - as well as the transformative potential - of setting up large-scale solar power and wind farms across 9 million square kilometers of desert.

Not only could this produce four times the world's energy requirements in any given year, but it could also increase rainfall and promote vegetation growth across the entire Sahara region.

"Our model results show that large-scale solar and wind farms in the Sahara would more than double the precipitation, especially in the Sahel, where the magnitude of rainfall increase is between 20mm and 500mm per year," said study lead author Dr Yan Li from the University of Illinois.

"As a result, vegetation cover fraction increases by about 20%."
Wind turbines and solar panels achieve these effects through different mechanisms.

"Wind farms increase surface roughness and therefore increase wind converging into low-pressure areas," said Dr Li. "The converging air has to rise, making it cool off and moisture condense, which will lead to increased rainfall."

"[Solar] panels directly reduce the surface albedo which leads to more solar energy absorption and surface warming, which in turn strengthens the Saharan heat low, leading to more rising air and precipitation."

Whether such an ambitious and large-scale installation will ever go ahead however remains unclear.

"The main message for people, policymakers, and investors is the enormous benefits to the people, society, and ecosystem as a result of these solar and wind farms," said Dr Li.

Source: BBC News | Comments (30)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #21 Posted by Myles 5 years ago
"Root for wildlife"? That's an odd phrase to use. As someone said earlier, the Sahara desert is massive and almost nothing lives there. What does, would not be endangered. With every bit of vegetation, more animals will thrive. I think you need to educate yourself.
Comment icon #22 Posted by Merc14 5 years ago
Whi are you directing this at? Learn to use the quote function. You do realize that the Sahara was fertile and green at one time in earth's history right? The climate is always changing and what we have today is not the most best there ever was.
Comment icon #23 Posted by Bunzilla 5 years ago
It's not as if they're going to be covering the entire sahara, only one small section of it. I seriously doubt that the local flora and fauna, as scarce as it is, would be effected. Honestly, I think it's a great idea. It could easily provide energy for the entire landmass. I somehow doubt that anyone would find laying massive power cables across the ocean floor to be viable. However, we have our own 'massive potential power generation area' ourselves ; the salt flats. Whatever happened to providing the whole continent with cheap energy? Yeah. I get the feeling the same thing would happen with... [More]
Comment icon #24 Posted by DarkHunter 5 years ago
I know it was fertile at one time, it goes in cycles of being a savanna and desert about every 10,000 to 15,000 years but messing with that cycle will also mess with all of the other cycles of the planet of which there is simply not enough information on if it will be a net benefit or not. The earth is a highly dynamic closed system and playing around with what is essentially low level terraforming without having any real idea of the repercussions is extremely dangerous.
Comment icon #25 Posted by Merc14 5 years ago
I can agree that we don't know enough about the climate to mess around with it but still think this idea has merit albeit repercussions we may not anticipate.
Comment icon #26 Posted by Myles 5 years ago
I disagree. While we don't know the lasting affects, we can see positives.
Comment icon #27 Posted by lost_shaman 5 years ago
To be honest, we've been terraforming this Planet for thousands of years. Cattle herding westwardly from the Nile creating the Sahara Desert is just a prime and early example. Right now people are "Slashing and burning" Rainforests and we don't even talk about that anymore.
Comment icon #28 Posted by kobolds 5 years ago
"9 million square kilometers " How many years are we talking about to do that
Comment icon #29 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 5 years ago
So we should stopcultivating land and stop building towns and cities ? We have been altering wast areas of the Earth for thousands of years, so why is it so bad to do it in a way that would actually increase bio diversity ? The OP is an interesting idea, but sadly I think political instability will preclude this from happening in the near future. The security situation in North Africa probably preclused this, but in some of the more stable West African Sahel countries it might be feasible to give it a try.
Comment icon #30 Posted by Trenix 5 years ago
We simply need to stop playing god and thinking we can solve everything, while in the process, destroying everything. More and more I'm seeing people have this god complex, the same one that has led to mass extinctions. I feel like I know what causes it, but I don't want to get into that argument. Anyway, everyone always feels like they know what's best for others and they literally don't get, that they're the one who is causing the problems. Whether it's running the economy, messing with the climate, or managing a population, it's all the same. The desert wasn't once a desert, but now it is. ... [More]

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