Large solar farms could affect solar power generation around the world

Huge solar farms can affect the amount of solar energy produced in other parts of the world.

The Sun's energy is certainly unlimited. Although resources like coal and gas are limited, if solar energy can be harnessed and used, that doesn't stop others from enjoying as much sunlight as they need.

But that's not the whole story. Beyond a certain scale, solar farms become large enough to influence the surrounding climate and, ultimately, the climate as a whole. New research looked at the impact of solar farms changing the climate and therefore solar energy production in other parts of the world.

We know that solar energy depends on weather conditions and production varies depending on the day and season. Clouds, rain, snow, and fog can prevent sunlight from reaching the solar panels. On cloudy days performance can decrease by up to 75%, and its efficiency also decreases with high temperatures.

In the long term, climate change could affect cloud cover in some regions and the amount of solar energy that can be generated. For example, northern Europe is likely to experience a decrease in solar radiation, while the rest of Europe, the east coast of the US, and northern China are expected to experience a slight increase in solar radiation.

The impact on the climate of large solar farms

If truly giant solar parks were ever built, spanning countries and continents, they could have a similar impact. In the latest research, a computer program was used to model the Earth system and how hypothetical giant solar farms covering 20% ​​of the Sahara would affect the way solar energy is produced around the world.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels are dark in color and therefore absorb more heat than reflective desert sand. Although some of the energy is converted to electricity, most of it still heats the panel. And when millions of these panels are grouped together, the entire area heats up. If these solar panels were placed in the Sahara, our modeling shows that this new heat source would reorganize global weather patterns, drawing rain from the tropics and making the desert greener than 5.000 years ago.

This, in turn, will affect cloud cover patterns and the amount of solar energy that can be generated around the world. Regions that will become cloudier and less capable of generating solar energy include the Middle East, southern Europe, India, eastern China, Australia and the southwestern United States. Regions that will produce the most solar energy include Central and South America, the Caribbean, the central and eastern United States, Scandinavia and South Africa.

How will this affect the global solar energy potential?:

solar farms

Something similar happened when we modeled the impact of giant solar power plants in other hotspots in Central Asia, Australia, the southwestern United States and northwestern China, each of which caused climate changes in different places.

For example, the giant solar farms that would cover much of outback Australia would make the weather sunnier in South Africa but cloudier in the UK, especially in summer.

If giant solar parks are installed in other arid areas:

solar farms

There are some issues to keep in mind. The situation will change by at most a few percent: no matter how much solar we build, in Scandinavia it will still be cold and cloudy, and in Australia it will be hot and sunny.

In all cases, these effects are based on hypothetical scenarios. For example, our Sahara scenario is based on covering 20% ​​of the entire desert with photovoltaic parks, and although there have been ambitious proposals, nothing on this scale is possible in the near future. If the area covered were reduced to 5% of the Sahara (although this is still unlikely), the overall impact would be negligible.

Why is this experiment on large solar farms important?

However, in a future world where almost all regions increasingly invest in and depend on solar projects, interactions between solar energy resources have the potential to shape the energy landscape, creating a complex web of dependencies, competition and opportunities.

The geopolitics of some countries in the construction of solar projects could create important new energy sources, impacting the potential for solar production beyond their borders.

That is why it is so important to strengthen cooperation between countries to ensure that the benefits of solar energy are shared equitably around the world. By sharing knowledge and collaborating on land use planning for future large-scale solar projects, countries must develop and implement equitable and sustainable energy solutions, while avoiding any unwanted risks to solar energy production in remote areas. .

This article was written by Zhengyao Lu, researcher in Physical Geography at Lund University, and Jingchao Long, associate professor of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Guangdong Ocean University. It is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. read the Original article .

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