Massive Wind and Solar Farms Could Transform the Sahara Into a Real-Life 'Dune'

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 11:27AM
Earth
Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 11:27AM
Massive Wind and Solar Farms Could Transform the Sahara Into a Real-Life 'Dune'
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Image Credit: Pixabay Composite
Most people remember two things about Dune: the sandworms and the spice. But if you go back and read the original, you'll notice that an inordinate amount of the book is spent on the ecology of Arrakis, the titular desert planet. In fact, the generation-spanning plans to transform Arrakis into a lush paradise is one of the key subplots of the novel, and it relies on just a few simple mechanisms, like wind traps. Now we may be seeing the real-life equivalent of Herbert's sci-fi dreams: a new study from the University of Illinois claims that wind and solar farms in the Sahara have the potential to increase rainfall and spur vegetation growth, as well as create massive amounts of energy for the region.

The study relied on computer simulations of the proposed energy farms, which would spread across the entire Sahara—roughly nine million square miles of desert. According to the study, the combined energy output of the farms would be roughly 82 terawatts, which is absolutely massive. According to Yan Li, the lead author on the study: "In 2017, the global energy demand was only 18 terawatts, so this is obviously much more energy than is currently needed worldwide."

Apart from generating a mind-boggling amount of energy, the farms would also have a big impact on the region's temperature, rainfall, and vegetation. Based on the simulations, which took into account how the wind turbines and solar panels would affect "land-atmosphere interactions," daily average rainfall in the Sahara would double, causing an increase in plant growth. In addition, the minimum temperature in the region would rise, though the highs would remain roughly the same.

According to Safa Motesharrei, one of the co-authors on the study: "The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions."

If the project ever comes to fruition, it'll not only be a re-enactment of Frank Herbert's vision in Dune, but a potential stopgap that keeps the Sahara from engulfing the surrounding countries.
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