August 9

What if we spread solar cells to fill the Sahara?


Covering the Sahara sealed solar cell, we will have enough energy for 7 Earths.

The Sahara Desert is the largest land and receives the most sunlight on Earth. It is about the same size as China, is close to the equator, and has almost no clouds all year round. In particular, its large central region can receive more than 4000 hours of sunshine per year. If there is a place that is called the most ideal place to build a solar power plant, it must be somewhere in the Sahara.

So have you ever wondered, if we covered the entire Sahara desert with solar panels, how much energy would we have and how would it change the Earth? If yes, this will be the answer, if not, please read more.

Covering the Sahara has been thought of, but it will be very difficult, take years and cost a lot, a lot of money

The Desertec project was established in 2003 to build a series of solar power plants across the periphery of the Sahara and the Middle East to power much of Africa and export excess electricity to Europe. And it can meet up to 15% of the electricity demand for the whole Europe. But why just the surrounding area when the central area is the most solar-rich place? Desertec researchers have spent years pursuing the project, and they have good reason to do so.

It is so vast, but because it is so barren, of course, the Sahara desert is not chosen by many people as a place to live. Of its approximate total area of China, there are only about 2.5 million people. The Sahara’s sparse population is both beneficial and harmful. It is beneficial in that we can plan and build comfortably without many people having to move. But the bad thing is that the transport infrastructure is very underdeveloped. Currently, there is only one road that cuts across the Sahara from north to south. Most of the vast territory of this desert region didn’t even have a road that crossed it.

This means that to cover the Sahara, we have to build a network of roads that can transport billions of solar panels to where they are needed and connect the power stations together. It would take countless highways and railroads to do that.

This is also the reason why the researchers of the Desertec project decided to only build solar power plants around the desert. It’s not really possible to go deep into solar energy exploitation from the sunny, windy and sandy central area right now. The Desertec project itself isn’t finished yet. However, that is not all, just the cost of solar panels is already a big problem.

A 350W residential solar panel costs about 200 to 450 USD. The cost to transport it to one of the most remote places on Earth will cost about 300 USD more, the cost to get there and install it will cost about 200 USD more. Then, each solar panel in the Sahara will cost about 1000 USD.

To fill an area equivalent to the mainland of Vietnam in the Sahara desert, we will need 51.4 billion such solar panels, with a total value of up to 51.4 trillion USD. This is a terrible amount equivalent to 60% of the world’s GDP, but in return this solar battery will provide enough energy for the whole world to use. And so humanity can abandon fossil energy and switch to environmentally friendly renewable energy. That is only with the area of ​​the mainland territory of Vietnam.

Covering the Sahara with closed solar cells, we will have enough energy for 7 Earths

Assuming money is limitless and we can actually spread solar panels across the Sahara desert, the amount of electricity generated would be equivalent to 1.3 million Terawatt hours per year. That much electricity is 7 times the amount of electricity that humanity uses in 2019. Not only electricity but all kinds of energy that we use. This will be the turning point revolution in human history, and closer to the level of civilization type I on the Kardashev scale.

However, anything too much is not good, solar energy if deployed on such a large scale is not necessarily environmentally friendly. And Mother Nature will make us pay for that.

Energy is abundant, but it can create super catastrophes

The black surface of the solar panels will of course absorb a lot of sunlight that hits the entire Sahara, not reflect it into space like sand. Only a small part of it converts into electricity while most of the light energy will convert into heat and spread to the environment. The huge amount of heat emanating from the solar panels will create a large temperature difference between the land and the surrounding oceans. Eventually, surface air pressure will decrease, humidity will increase, and cause rain across the desert.

Does this sound positive? It will create a green Sahara as wide as China and bring prosperity to North Africa. However, it brings a bad prospect for the green lung of the earth.

The Amazon rainforest is “fertilized” by the fertile dust that flies from the Sahara across the Atlantic. The fact that the Sahara becomes fertile green means that there will be no more dust, causing the Amazon ecosystem to be destroyed as well as triggering unpredictable events. This could even lead to climate catastrophes on a scale that humanity has never seen before.

In short, spreading solar panels across the Sahara desert sounds grand and exciting, but it’s not feasible, quite dangerous, and even unnecessary. Just spreading a solar panel equivalent to the area of ​​Vietnam is enough for 8 billion people to comfortably use it. In fact, we don’t even need to put them in the Sahara anymore. These solar cells can be spread all over the world, as long as there is sunlight to make them work efficiently.


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