A WWF report came out in 2013 that claimed 100% of the world’s solar needs could be met by using under 1% of the world’s land by 2050. WWF claimed land requirements are insignificant. They’re the same people who claim polar bears are disappearing from the earth.
George Soros’ Think Progress touted the idea to its naive readers. Skeptical Science says the same thing. MIT suggested it’s true. The IEA is more realistic and says solar may produce one-third of the world’s power by 2060.
Perhaps in the future, solar arrays could be in outer space, who is to say, but they better come up with a better system if they want it to supplant fossil fuels.
Our future with a country run only by solar energy was best described in an article on Watts Up With That by Tom D. Tamarkin & Barrie Lawson. You might want to laugh, or cry.
I pulled some salient points from their article, “Going Solar: System Requirements for 100% U.S. Solar Generated Utilities”, which focuses on what we will need to do to fuel our electricity throughout the nation with solar power, especially in the often sunless areas of the country.
Utilities will have to replace 40GW of baseload generation capacity and that could quadruple as more cars and trucks hit the road.
Don’t forget, the solar-wind people don’t want nuclear power either, which is ironically the cleanest energy source, so there will be no backup.
To simplify, the example used by the authors considers a single very large hypothetical solar power installation providing all the country’s power. They use all of the most esteemed sources for their data and only consider current demand.
About two-thirds of the energy is consumed during the day and one-third at night. Nighttime demand must be satisfied during the day. Considering plant margins and efficiency losses, the generating power will need to be at least 1,100 gW or 1.1 TW and the battery capacity will need to be 4,400 gWh to allow for the efficiency losses and the plant margin.
This chart shows the average daily solar radiation from which to pull power.
The location the authors chose for the solar array is where the most sun is – in the Southwest.
After the calculations are performed, this is the area that would be needed.
To generate the system requirements of 1,100 gW, a fixed solar array would have to have an area of 1,100,000,000,000/37.5 sq meters, made up from 29.333 billion, 1 meter square panels, covering an area of 29,333 km2 or a square with sides of 171.3 km long. This is about the size of Belgium and 50% bigger than Israel, just for the silicon PV cells.
Similarly, using the more expensive tracking array could reduce this area to 22,000 km2 or a square with sides of 148.3 km.
The writers note that if 1 square metre PV panels were manufactured at the rate of 1 per second, it would take 930 years to manufacture 29.3 billion panels.
Oh, what’s time?
Then there is the cost effectiveness:
A study by researchers from the Netherlands and the USA (Fthenakis, Kim and Alsema, 2008), which analyses PV module production processes based on data from 2004-2006 finds that it takes 250kWh of electricity to produce 1m2 of crystalline silicon PV panel. The solar panels considered above typically produce around 300kWh electricity per year, so it will take almost a year to “pay back” the energy cost of the panel.
What’s money to the liberals in power?
The total area covered by the solar array will need to be significantly larger than the area of the panels to allow for installation, maintenance access and periodic cleaning. The space required for the batteries is in addition to this.
What if the plant were to be located in the cloudier and chillier Northeast?
From the NREL solar maps, we can see that the average daily solar radiation would be reduced from 6 kWh/m2/day to 4 kWh/m2/day. Thus the average electrical power produced by the PV cells with the same efficiency of 15% will reduce from 37.5 W/m2 to 25 W/m2 and the number of one square meter solar panels required to produce the same electric power would consequently increase by 50% to 44 billion covering an area of 44,000 square kilometers or a square with sides of 210 km. Bigger than Denmark, the Netherlands or Switzerland.
Then there is the battery storage:
To store 4,400 gWh would need 4.4 million of these 40 foot containers costing $3,300,000,000,000 or $3.3 trillion. As a quick error check on the numbers calculated above, the total power handling capability of 4.4 million containers each supplying a power requirement 66.67 kW will be 4,400,000 X 66.67 kW = 293.3 gW, matching the requirement outlined in the Demand Profile above.
For 4.4 million containers, the containers would cover an area of 130.8 million m2 = 130.8 km2 or a square with sides 11.44 km long; but adequate access space must also be provided, adding substantially to the total.The standard container exterior dimensions are 12.193 m X 2.438 m giving an area of 29.727 m2
We’d have to go to China for the batteries:
Note that if these 44 million containerized batteries were manufactured in China, it would take 587 round trips of twenty days each way on the largest container ships to deliver them to the USA.
The article doesn’t deal with wind farms but they need even more space.
Putting the solar array in the Northeast, you would need 44,000 sq. km. so you could, for example, give up New Hampshire and Massachusetts (see the red), or you could put it in the Southwest and take a quarter of Louisiana, roughly (check the red).
Map courtesy of Free World Maps