Tag Archive for: Environmental Impact

Modifications to the surface albedo through the deployment of cool roofs and pavements (reflective materials) and photovoltaic arrays (low reflection) have the potential to change radiative forcing, surface temperatures, and regional weather patterns. In this work we investigate the regional climate and radiative effects of modifying surface albedo to mimic massive deployment of cool surfaces (roofs and pavements) and, separately, photovoltaic arrays across the United States. The researchers use a fully coupled regional climate model, the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, to investigate feedbacks between surface albedo changes, surface temperature, precipitation and average cloud cover. With the adoption of cool roofs and pavements, domain-wide annual average outgoing radiation increased by 0.16 ± 0.03 W m−2 (mean ± 95% C.I.) and afternoon summertime temperature in urban locations was reduced by 0.11–0.53 ◦C, although some urban areas showed no statistically significant temperature changes. In response to increased urban albedo, some rural locations showed summer afternoon temperature increases of up to +0.27 ◦C and these regions were correlated with less cloud cover and lower precipitation. The emissions offset obtained by this increase in outgoing radiation is calculated to be 3.3 ± 0.5 Gt CO2 (mean ± 95% C.I.). The hypothetical solar arrays were designed to be able to produce one terawatt of peak energy and were located in the Mojave Desert of California. To simulate the arrays, the desert surface albedo was darkened, causing local afternoon temperature increases of up to +0.4 ◦C. Due to the solar arrays, local and regional wind patterns within a 300 km radius were affected. Statistically significant but lower magnitude changes to temperature and radiation could be seen across the domain due to the introduction of the solar arrays. The addition of photovoltaic arrays caused no significant change to summertime outgoing radiation when averaged over the full domain, as interannual variation across the continent obscured more consistent local forcing.

Wind and solar farms offer a major pathway to clean, renewable energies. However, these farms would significantly change land surface properties, and, if sufficiently large, the farms may lead to unintended climate consequences. In this study, we used a climate model with dynamic vegetation to show that large-scale installations of wind and solar farms covering the Sahara lead to a local temperature increase and more than a twofold precipitation increase, especially in the Sahel, through increased surface friction and reduced albedo. The resulting increase in vegetation further enhances precipitation, creating a positive albedo–precipitation– vegetation feedback that contributes ~80% of the precipitation increase for wind farms. This local enhancement is scale dependent and is particular to the Sahara, with small impacts in other deserts. Efforts to build such large-scale wind and solar farms for electricity generation may still face many technological (e.g., transmission, efficiency), socioeconomic (e.g., cost, politics), and environmental challenges, but this goal has become increasingly achievable and cost-effective. These results indicate that renewable energy can have multiple benefits for climate and sustainable development and thus could be widely adopted as a primary solution to the challenges of global energy, climate change, and environmental and societal sustainability.