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Energy from the sun is not problem-free

Updated: May 29, 2023


Solar farm Ivanpah, Mohave Desert
Solar farm Ivanpah, Mohave Desert, California

Building massive solar farms in the world’s deserts seems at first view like a great idea. But we are seeing some unintended consequences.


California's Mojave Desert is a habitat for a number of endangered species such as the Mojave Desert Tortoise. The desert is also home to thousand-year-old carbon-capturing woodlands. Roots extending up to 150 feet (45 meters) underground provide remarkable carbon sequestration. Digging them up releases millennia of stored carbon back into the atmosphere.


Sea of solar panels in Mohave Desert
Sea of solar panels in Mohave Desert

Solar panel farms absorb additional heat, raising the global temperature and affecting rain patterns around the world. Thus, turning deserts into solar energy farms could cause cyclones in Vietnam or droughts in the Amazon.

Mojave Desert Tortoise
Mojave Desert Tortoise

Solar facilities require large tracts of land, competing with other land uses. Clearing the land can strain scarce water resources and cause soil compaction and erosion.


All this for solar panels that have an expected lifespan of 25 years.


-Julie Wornan

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References:


How solar farms took over the California desert


Giant desert solar farms might have unintended climate consequences


This Mojave Desert solar plant kills 6,000 birds a year.


California Desert Conservation Area


Solar Energy Development Environmental Considerations





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