Installing massive wind and solar farms in the Saharan desert could slow global warming, and also give a small but beneficial boost to rain in the dry African region, researchers said Thursday, reports AFP. The study in the journal Science used computer modeling to simulate the effect of covering 20 percent of the largest desert on the planet in solar panels and installing three million wind turbines there.
A solar and wind farm of that size—more than 3.5 million square miles (nine million square kilometers) — would be “at a scale large enough to power the entire world,” said the report.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.
Together, according to model simulations, the wind and solar farm effect boosted average rain across the entire Sahara from 0.24 millimeters per day to 0.59 mm per day.
The effect was not uniform across the vast desert, with the most substantial rain increase occurring in the Sahel, a semi-arid region extending from Senegal to Sudan, where residents could see 200 to 500 mm more rain per year, or about 1.12 mm per day near the wind farms. This would be “large enough to have major ecological, environmental, and societal impacts,” said the report.
“The vast majority of the Sahara would remain extremely dry,” said co-author Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Maryland.
But more rain along the southern edge of the Sahara would lead to more plant growth, “which would allow for more grazing,” he told AFP in an email.
“It is hard to imagine that this would be a bad thing from the point of view of human communities there.”