In a world exhausted of fossil fuels, solar panels can provide a sustainable
solution to our energy problems. But they also come with a couple of issues: for one, solar farms are massive, and they have to be set up somewhere
that gets a lot of sunlight. Now, if only we had a large
mass of unused land that gets guaranteed
sunlight everyday… hmm… This is WHAT IF,
and here’s what would happen if we covered the Sahara desert
with solar panels. If we covered just 1.2 percent of the
Sahara desert in solar panels, we could harness enough power
to meet the energy needs of the entire world. Usually, a solar farm is built to
prevent changes to the environment, but if we built one in the Sahara, it
might cause some changes of its own. If we lined the desert floor
with giant solar panels, it would double the rainfall in the region and increase vegetation
cover by about 20 percent. Sound a little unbelievable?
Well, let me explain. Saharan sand is unusually light in color, which means it tends to reflect a lot
of light and heat back up into the air. If we covered the sand in dark solar panels, it would mean that more
sun would be absorbed, and the ground temperature would increase. Warmer air rises to areas in the
atmosphere where it’s cooler, and moisture there
condenses and falls as rain. Before you knew it, one of the
most extreme climates on Earth would undergo a significant makeover. So if these solar panels would not only
provide sustainable energy solutions, but also add much-needed greenery to our
largest desert, then what are we waiting for? Shouldn’t we be out there
building these things already? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. For one thing, it’s great to produce
enough energy to power the world, but then you have to worry about how
you’re going to get it to everyone. The most likely place this energy
would travel to first is to Europe. Exporting sustainable energy would do great
things for a lot of African economies, but would they have the means to do it? Currently, electrical grids in
Africa aren’t very reliable, and they’d need power lines of around
800 – 3,000 km (500 to 2,000 miles) to get where they needed to go. Transporting power over long distances
leads to power loss of up to 10%, which means that an already expensive
project would get even more pricey. And where would all the money come from? Africa is home to quite a
few unstable governments, the kind that raise some
pretty big red flags with investors of multi-billion dollar
projects like this one. On top of that, this would be a long-term
project, so there’d be a lot of moving parts. Several countries would have to be involved, and any one of them might see a changing
political landscape over the years that could disrupt, or put
an end to the whole thing. As great as this project would be, it would probably be better to
attempt it on a small scale first. Maybe solar panels could be used to
power some small African villages, and help to spread access to electricity, but that’s a topic for another WHAT IF.