Thinking about Solar Power in the Sahara Desert


The Sahara Desert is one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. But could it also be the key to solving our energy problems? There is growing interest in using solar power to generate energy in the Sahara. This is because the desert has some of the best solar resources anywhere on the planet, with direct sunlight almost all year round and very little cloud cover. In addition, there are large tracts of land available where panels could be installed, allowing for significant amounts of energy to be generated.

The Sahara Desert is an extraordinary and mystical place. With its vast golden sand dunes contrasting against the beautiful blue sky, it is no wonder why many travelers find the region so captivating. The picturesque landscape, combined with the harshness of the heat that comes from this barren space, serves as a reminder to us all of just how powerful nature can be. The Sahara Desert gets plenty of sunshine throughout the year – but this is more than enough to create a climate of extreme temperatures and difficult conditions in which life struggles to survive. It’s these tricky odds that make the region so awe-inspiring and exciting; it really puts your bravery and abilities to the test.

Solar panels could harness this energy, but there are some challenges to overcome

Solar energy is an abundant resource, but it is largely untapped. We all know that solar panels could be a great way to harvest this energy, however, there are some challenges to overcome. While the technology has gotten much better in recent years, it’s still not commonplace – one challenge is education and convincing people of its potential benefits. Additionally, solar panels themselves are expensive and may not always be cost-effective with considerable upfront expenditure needed. These factors likely have kept many people from taking the jump just yet, but with steady improvements in technology and cost reductions, who knows how far we can go?

Solar photovoltaic capacity worldwide in 2021, by region (in megawatts)
Solar photovoltaic capacity worldwide in 2021, by region, in megawatts (Image: Statista)

Building and maintaining solar panels in the desert presents a unique challenge, as the harsh environment can wear them down quickly. Hot days are followed by cold nights, sandstorms can blow debris against them, and the sun’s relentless rays relentlessly bat them day after day. Not to mention that the cost to build and maintain this array of solar panels can be quite costly. It requires a great deal of planning and dedication to finding innovative ways to install the necessary infrastructure in an affordable way while still making sure that it functions efficiently.

The Sahara desert is an incredibly difficult environment for establishing any form of technology, let alone a solar park. Attempts to introduce renewable energy sources into the region have so far proven unsuccessful on account of the extreme temperatures, violent sand storms, and lack of access to affordable resources. The task at hand is daunting but possible with the right preparation and long-term vision of contributing to a cleaner and healthier planet. Although this may seem like a daunting task ahead it is far from impossible.

Solar Park in the Gobi Desert
Image: Chungking / Depositphotos

When considering utilizing photovoltaic systems in the Sahara, though the rewards may sound great, there is also a multitude of political and social complexities to contemplate. For one thing, ownership of land is often disputed among governments and corporations in this region, thus institutions must resolve ownership issues before installation is possible. Furthermore, disruption to livelihoods and traditional ways of life must be taken into account when introducing new technologies. Subsequently, it is important to ensure local populations are supported from potential disruptions that come with the introduction of photovoltaic systems. Yet, understanding political and social barriers offer opportunities for mutual understanding between corporations or governments and local communities for expanded efficiency gains for all parties involved.

Has someone tried building solar parks in a desert before?

In recent years, several ambitious projects have been launched to build solar parks in the desert terrain. Bhadla Solar Park (2,700 MW) in Rajasthan, India, and the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park (2,400 MW) in China were two of the largest attempts attempted so far. Huanghe Hydropower Hainan Solar Park’s (2,200 MW) accomplishment of over 7 million PV module installations marked a new record for deserts at the time, and Pavagada Solar Park (2,050 MW) in India is yet another commendable effort. Beyond that, China plans to build renewable energy generating facilities in the Gobi desert with a capacity of 450 GW in the future, including wind power.

Largest solar photovoltaic power plants worldwide as of June 2021, by capacity (in megawatts)
The largest solar photovoltaic power plants worldwide as of June 2021, by capacity, in megawatts, differs from the Wikipedia dataset referenced in our text (Image: Statista)

As progress continues to be, Benban Solar Park (1,650 MW) in Egypt has established itself as one of the world’s largest solar parks spanning 37 km² of land. Tengger Desert Solar Park (1,547 MW) located in Zhongwei, China, and Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (1,313 MW) based in Dubai are notable names that aim to set new vast solar records too. Whether you could define all of these locations as a desert or not is not the point though. The point is, that in general, such projects could be possible even though that scaling and maintaining them could be quite challenging, yet potentially profitable and certainly useful as a renewable source of power.

Closing thoughts and more to watch

The Sahara desert is a harsh and empty space that receives an abundance of sunlight. Solar panels could harness this energy, however, there are many challenges to consider before such a project could be completed. The cost of building and maintaining the solar panels would be immense, as well as the challenge of making them work in such a hostile environment. There are also political and social challenges that must be considered. Despite all of these challenges, covering the Sahara desert with solar panels is an intriguing idea worth further exploration. To learn more about this idea, watch the TED talk from Dan Kwartler below, for additional pro and contra.

YouTube: Why don’t we cover the desert with solar panels? – Dan Kwartler

Photo credit: The feature image and the photo in the body of the article are symbolic and have been done by Chungking. The infographics with statistical data have been done by Statista.
Source: The data about the existing solar park is sourced from Wikipedia’s list of the world’s largest photovoltaic power stations.

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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