Elon Musk is known for being a visionary and his recent talks about solar power highlight how underrated the technology really is. While giving an interview on 15th December at the American Geophysical Union meeting, he said that if we are able to cover only a corner of Nevada or Utah using solar panels; entire US can be powered.
He also talked about this fact on 2nd December while giving is talk at the Université de Paris Panthéon Sorbonne, “The important thing to appreciate is if let’s say the only thing we had was solar energy, that that was the only power source, if you just took a small section of Spain, you could power all of Europe. It’s a very small amount of area that’s actually needed to generate the electricity we need to power civilization, or in the case of the US, a little corner of Nevada or Utah, power the entire United States.”
Considering that the space being talked about is quite little, the question arises; is it really possible to do this? A fun fact; sun provides more power in an hour than the entire human race consumes in an entire year! However, solar power was used for only 0.39% of the power that was consumed in US last year. Musk believes that solar power will become the largest energy source by 2031.
Looking at it objectively, solar power is 20% efficient when it comes to transforming solar energy into power as per lab tests and thus, a land about the size of Spain would be enough to power the entire Earth in 2030, just like Musk pointed out.
Land Art Generator Initiative shows on a map just how little of a space we really are talking about. The map shows the solar installation as squares coupled together, however, the squares can be spread out depending upon area available.
The team at Land Art Generator Initiative did the following math to come up with this map; according to the US Energy Information Administration’s estimation of global energy consumption; we will by consuming 678 quadrillion Btu by 2030. This converts into 198,721,800,000,000 kilowatt-hours which is then divided by 400 kilowatt-hours of solar energy production per square meter of land (based on 70% sunshine days per year and 20% efficiency while also considering the fact that 1,000 watts of solar energy strike each square meter of land on earth) to come up with 496,805 square kilometers of solar panels (191,817 square miles).
These calculations are based if we use only solar power and no other power source. Let’s see when this happens and when the transition from non-renewable energy to renewable energy is completed.