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Images of particles made from a promising battery cathode material called NMC

Effects of Large-Scale Solar Energy on Land and Water Resources in The Southwest U.S.

Precourt Institute for Energy

Chris Field, Noah Diffenbaugh and David Lobell, environmental Earth system science

Funded by the TomKat Center with support from PIE 

Some of the world’s highest agricultural yields come from irrigated systems in deserts, which are also attractive sites for large solar power stations. This study will analyze the effects of desert photovoltaics on land and water resources in the US Southwest, where managing demands on water and land is a core challenge. The research will provide a framework for assessing similar impacts in other regions of the world.

Noah Diffenbaugh will evaluate the consequences of large-scale solar projects for local monsoonal precipitation. Such projects have been shown to increase local afternoon temperatures slightly. For arid regions that receive much of their precipitation at the monsoon boundary, such enhanced heating at the boundary of the monsoon region and the arid region could increase cloudiness and precipitation at the margin and into the marginal edge of the arid region. David Lobell will investigate opportunities for integrating agriculture and large solar infrastructure in desert regions. Siting solar projects amid existing agricultural could ensure the availability of water to keep the solar panels clean, minimize dust due to the density of the agricultural crops, and minimize the impacts on natural areas. Chris Field will examine the issue of the possible consequences of climate change and disturbance of soil crusts for dust generation and deposition. Field will also explore the water requirements of dust removal. Some sites may simply be too dusty to be attractive for large-scale solar, but some dusty sites may have sufficient water to allow the necessary frequent washing.