Supermassive solar farms might actually have adverse affects on the climate

widespread desert solar power plants unexpected effects global climate environment morocco concentrated plant
In the future, humanity will source the wealth of its electricity from solar power plants that pave the desert with mirrors and harness the unbridled power of the sun. These solar power plants and other renewable energy options are supposedly the solution to the dangerous impact our power consumption habits have on the planet, but according to some new research, covering the planet in solar panels might also have a few adverse affects.

Around the world, humans regularly consume an average of about 17.5 TeraWatts of power. Even the most dire predictions of the way climate change will affect the planet suggest that, at best, the only thing we can do now is slow down our own demise. Renewable energy has been hailed as a sort of saving grace option, since switching to solar, wind, and hydro power sources will protect the environment from the greenhouse gas emissions that humans are so famously using to build (or destroy) our legacy on Earth.

But protecting the environment isn’t as simple as cutting out greenhouse gasses – at least, not anymore. A team of researchers from the US and China recently put together a series of potential scenarios to predict the state of the world’s climate after a hypothetical switch to full planetary solar power.

The scientists’ proposed scenarios included hyperbolic possibilities as well as to more realistic plans, so they were able to compare and scale their findings based on the terms of the simulation. By running algorithmic climate models over their potential Earth futures, the team was able to develop simulations of how solar at any scale will impact the Earth’s environment, for better or for worse.

In their most extreme simulation, all the deserts and urban areas of Earth were covered with solar panels. Aside from the obvious impracticality of this simulation, this particular projection would also produce an incredible excess of power, pouring 800 TeraWatts of electricity into the environment and raising global temperatures over all. In a more practical simulation, the scientists created a scenario where only the deserts of Egypt were covered with solar panels. The 60 TeraWatts of power created here is still in extreme excess, but the net effect of this simulation on the environment was negligible but still positive, with global cooling rates over all at about 0.04 degrees.

The complicated range of environmental effects from a solar-powered planet scales in direct correlation with the amount of area we cover, among other factors related to the sheer volume of solar power panels around the world. In the extreme example of a world mostly covered with solar power, climate changes in the desert regions where panels are installed would have widespread environmental effects. Although greenhouse gases and carbon emissions would be reduced, deserts covered in solar panels would cool down surrounding regions by up to 2 degrees Celsius. Although the ridiculous amount of energy pouring into populated regions heats up some of this cooling effect to level out the net impact, the changes in wind and precipitation around the world are understood to be triggers for other kinds of inclement weather disasters and dangerous climate situations.

Even in the most extreme simulation from this research, a world powered by renewable energy would be better off than the one we’re currently destroying with greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, this research comes from two of the world’s most notable contributors to global climate change: the US and China. It may be true after all that the best we can to protect Earth’s environment is to slow down the damage.

Movies & TV

Oscar-winning FX master explains why ‘First Man’ is a giant leap for filmmaking

Paul Lambert, the Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor on First Man, reveals the innovative techniques that blended old footage with modern movie magic to make the Apollo 11 mission to the moon resonate with audiences 50 years later.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Emerging Tech

Lasers and bovine breathalyzer help determine how much methane cows produce

Cow farts and belches don't sound like catastrophic threats, but they contribute to the massive amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Recently, scientists set out to establish the numbers.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.