Solar power shows the danger of simplistic solutions

South of energy-hungry Europe is a vast hot empty desert. Stretching across the deserts of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya is a belt of unused land whose abundant sunshine could power the whole of Europe and much of the Middle East. What better and easier idea than to cover the lot in cheap solar panels, and end our dependence on fossil fuel forever?

Except it isn’t that simple, as a remarkable piece of research by Zhengyao Lu and Benjamin Smith makes abundantly clear in their excellent write-up for The Conversation[1]. The devil, as always, is in the detail. Solar panels, at least in their current form, only absorb 15% of irradiation. The rest gets transmitted into the ground as heat. As the authors make clear, covering anything between 20% and 50% of the Sahara would release vast amounts of uncontrolled heat energy into the environment. It will massively affect wind patterns, leading to droughts in areas like the Amazon, assuming Bolsonaro and has chums have left any. It could even add to overall global warming. How’s that for the law of unintended consequences?

To write small, the solution is to integrate certain amounts of Saharan solar power into larger, diverse systems including nuclear, tidal and wind energy. But to write big: the solution is to always, always beware of simple solutions. Of slogans whose consequences have never been thought out or through. Of quick fixes to sudden surging anxieties, particularly in the elderly and those sodden in drink.

Of course the world has got itself onto a terrible path with fossil fuels. And there are many other problems too, like the lack of antibiotics. But this time-let’s think carefully and come up with solutions that work. Long term. Well, it’s something different for a new year.

We thank Mr Peter Seymour of Hertfordshire for this story


##global warming #renewable energy #bolsonaro #solar power #sahara #climate change

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