Regardless of the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels on global climate1,2, other energy sources will become more important in the future because fossil fuels could run out by the early twenty-second century3 given the present rate of consumption4. 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; ref. 5). 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.

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A portion of this study was supported by the Regional and Global Climate Modelling Program (RGCM) of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science (BER), Cooperative Agreement No. DE-FC02-97ER62402. This research used computing resources of the Climate Simulation Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation; the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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    • Samuel Levis

    Present address: The Climate Corporation, San Francisco, California 94103, USA.


  1. Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Aixue Hu
    • , Samuel Levis
    • , Gerald A. Meehl
    • , Warren M. Washington
    • , Keith W. Oleson
    • , Bas J. van Ruijven
    •  & Warren G. Strand
  2. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80301, USA

    • Weiqing Han
  3. Meteorological Bureau of Hubei Province, Wuhan, Hubei Province 430074, China

    • Mingqiong He


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A.H. designed and led the study. A.H., S.L., G.A.M., W.H., W.M.W., K.W.O., B.J.v.R., M.H. and W.G.S. contributed to the model simulations, data analysis, and all authors actively contributed towards writing the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Aixue Hu.

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