Could The America Run On Solar Panels?

There are many questions revolving the ability of solar technology to be a viable solution to efficient energy throughout the United States. The two concerns that most critics seem to have regarding this issue is that of cost and that of location.

Exactly where would solar panels be located, and will there be enough room for solar technology that requires spacious land for ground-mounted solar panels? According to the experts and recent studies, there is more than enough room and the cost is far from unrealistic.

Vietnam proved to the world that an up-front investment from businesses and private investors could truly go a long way. Utilizing reservoirs as space for ground-mounted solar panels, Vietnam has successfully ushered Southeast Asia into the light with unlimited energy for thousands of its residents.

With the help of economic incentives, many investors were willing to put their money where their hearts were in renewable energy solutions. This endeavor of effective partnerships that joined politics, business, and investors together to create sustainable solutions to the energy and climate crises has become a small roadmap to other countries who hope to do the same. It leaves many countries dealing with only one concern: space.

How much space does it take to ensure that an entire country receives energy from that of solar technology? More directly, how much space would be needed for all of the United States to become powered with solar panels?

Well, according to some industry experts, we have more than enough land to power all of America. Elon Musk stated in an interview that “it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah if you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels.” He went on to say that “you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels and the batteries to store the energy for 24/7 power would only be one square-mile.” His estimate wasn’t too far off, actually.

In 2013 National Renewable Energy Labs did a study that proved it only takes 3.4 acres of solar panels to generate a gigawatt hour of electricity over a year. The Freeing Energy Project further supported the study and stated that the U.S. “consume about 4 petawatt hours of electricity per year” and that “we would need about 21,250 square miles of solar panels to meet the total electricity requirements of the United States for one year.” So, if we have the land then why aren’t we using it?

Many people would attempt to argue that there are other forms of technologies that will ensure clean energy. They might even argue that these other forms can be more reliable in their ability to provide renewable energy sources to those who need it. Although such renewable technologies that rely on both wind and water exist, experts seem to believe that they are not necessarily the quickest path to clean energy.

According to Freeing Energy Project, solar panels are by far the fastest and most reliable route to energy and climate that is sustainably clean because they can be built faster, the projects are easier to permit and there are many more places throughout the U.S. to put them.

Editor’s note:  My own initial estimates were an area of about 150 x 150 square miles would do it, but there are many variables, such as the latitude of the installation, the efficiency of the cells, the efficiency of the transmission lines, etc.  This is less than 3% of the land area controlled by the federal goverment, so twice that would still be a small amount for America.

But it really is more a matter of motivation – can we make it desirable and profitable for anyone to participate?

Two requirements must be satisfied. A) the equipment has to be cost effective. Solar cells are almost there, and battery technology exists but is waiting for that deep market to make it cheap enough.  B) We have to make it possible for ANYONE to buy some panels, connect to the grid and immediately make money (this is an internet style model – the internet grew to its current size through entrepreneurship, not government subsidies).  Once these are satisfied, solar will take over the world.

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