Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
29 November 2016

Impact of Solar Panels on Global Climate


Regardless of the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels on global climate, other energy sources will become more important in the future because fossil fuels could run out by the early 22nd century given the present rate of consumption. This implies that sooner or later humanity will rely heavily on renewable energy sources. 


Here we model the effects of an idealized large-scale application of renewable energy on global and regional climate relative to a background climate of the representative concentration pathway 2.6 scenario (RCP2.6). We find that solar panels alone induce regional cooling by converting incoming solar energy to electricity in comparison to the climate without solar panels. 


The conversion of this electricity to heat, primarily in urban areas, increases regional and global temperatures which compensate the cooling effect.  However there are consequences involved with these processes that modulate the global atmospheric circulation, resulting in changes in regional precipitation.

Aixue Hu
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
2015.  "Impact of Solar Panels on Global Climate."  Nature Climate Change 6: 290-294.