Usually when people talk about the desert the issue is water. The question when bringing energy into the discussion is which is reusable and which is renewable. The difference is that one already exists (water) and one is produced (energy). There are no “new” water supplies on the Earth, but there are many ways energy can be produced.
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about renewable energy and the desert is obvious – the sun. Solar technology is being made available around the world for homes, businesses, and government facilities. One of the advantages of using solar power in the desert is the amount of sunlight available all year round, allowing a constant and reliable supply of electrical energy available to everyone.
People in first world countries often fail to realize that one of the biggest reasons countries are not able to economically advance is the lack of a consistent, reliable supply of electricity. I have a friend who lives in the country of Belize, a small country just south of Mexico. She told me that the United States is one of the few countries in the world where air-conditioned homes are found just about everywhere. A man I met who lived in Nigeria said the reason they don’t have air conditioning systems is because there is not enough available electrical power on the grid to run an air conditioning system 8 hours a day, let alone 24 hours.
An air conditioning system is one of the best examples of efficiently using technology to benefit people in desert regions. It is a closed system, meaning the fuel that cools the air remains in the system and very little is lost when used. New coolants can cool a room for 5 years or more without ever having to replace the coolant. When applied to desert regions, this allows people to work longer and result in a greater economic output for the country.
So renewable energy sources like solar energy have the potential to change what have historically been areas that have not been economically viable for generations into productive areas for manufacturing and service sector jobs. This has a domino effect on both the ecosystem and human population of desert areas.
The positive side of a significant increase in the use of solar energy to produce electricity is people will rise out of poverty and become more connected to the international community through the Internet. They will become more educated and more productive, creating a new hope for the future.
But there is also a negative side to this, as the effect on the existing ecosystem cannot be determined, or even guessed at. I mentioned in an earlier blog about the unknown effects desert organisms being introduced into new environments can potentially have on the world’s population, and the same argument is advanced here. Simply put, we don’t know, though this perspective can be modified to include the opportunity to conduct research into the problem in a real-world environment.
Electricity is at the heart of countries moving into the new technological world with smartphones and the Internet. Desert nations will easily be able to sell their surplus of solar produced electricity to other nations. Though this might be a pipe dream, it is possible that by the end of the century the desert sun will have the same economic and political weight as oil currently does. The bad news is no one controls the sun, but there is the potential for future wars being waged to seize the lands that have the most available sunlight to convert into electricity.