If you were looking on Twitter a few months ago about things related to energy you likely ran across many tweets about solar and 1 % of the earth’s land mass.
The claim was that earth’s “e” demand as projected for 2050 could be met if we were to cover less than 1 % of the earth’s surface in solar panels.
Of course, Al Gore’s, misfit of masseuse play things got on twitter and tweeted the heck out of that claim. One big glitch in the reporting on twitter is that many of these people were confused about whether “e” was meant for electricity or the word energy.
If you look at the implications of covering part of the earth such as Texas or the Arizona desert in solar panels you have to face the fact that trucks, panels, and land are all required for this.
If you look at some much smaller example solar farm projects you can start number crunching what type of investment in time, materials, man power, etc. is needed.
The one percent energy miracle would require about 100,000 18 wheeler trucks at the permanent disposal of this project for at the very least 5 years.
There would be about 60 million back and forth highway trucking trips. All of these semi’s would need to be moved from products, food, and goods transport to solar distribution only.
As the above scenario would seem this is impractical so let’s say we just devoted 10,000 trucks to the job. In this smaller level project scale you would see the completion of this solar project stretch to a whopping four decades to complete, near half a century.
The renewable energy bloggers went insane tweeting about this report done by the World Wildlife Fund and it was widely accepted as wonderful news by most everyone.
The problem is that it is now almost impossible for people to see beyond the dream world that solar makes sense on a large-scale. It simply doesn’t which is why private investors don’t build solar farms.
Politically motivated governments build these farms and sponsor affiliated companies like Solyndra to do so and then we all watch as they go out of business. The almost complete Agua Caliente solar project in Arizona will supply power to 100,000 homes. The company manufacturing these panels is First Solar who built inferior technological panels which saw several million dollars of them destroyed over the summer because they did not withstand the hot heat of the summer.
Rather than going with superior technology the Department of Energy favored companies where major investors had contributed to their campaigns as was the case with Solyndra.
This same company received billions in guaranteed loans from the Department of Energy and many steps in the process of guaranteeing these loans were skipped. The preferential treatment is assumed to have happened because Democratic donors were strongly allied and affiliated with First solar such as George Soros.
Some of the tweets that reported about the less than 1 % land mass story went like this…..“solar could power entire world with less than 1% of land mass”.
The confusion with many people had been whether the report was talking about “E” as electricity or “E” as energy. Electricity is only a small portion of the world’s energy needs and consider that a large cost of the food you eat and products you use is the energy cost that went in to creating that product. Take a look at the pie chart below to see what I am talking about.
Trying to meet the world’s electricity needs is one thing but trying to meet the world’s total energy needs is quite a different feat. You see energy and electricity both start with the same letter but getting these two confused as being the same is not helping you understand what is required to power the whole planet in a simple manner such as one gigantic solar farm.
Adding a 3 kilowatt solar PV system to all of the U.S. residential homes would deal with about 10 percent of our energy related greenhouse-gas emissions. The surge in rooftop solar in places like Austin Texas, San Francisco, CA, Madison Wisconsin, Sante Fe, NM, and Hollywood, CA is great considering these people want to reduce pollution, but it’s also unfortunate that they think that there is such a thing as man-made climate change or that this will have any large-scale reduction in dirty energy demand.
When you think about places like Africa that basically don’t even use electricity but kill themselves prematurely by cooking with animal dung, human waste or kerosene there you should begin to see the real picture.
The energy pie must grow for the benefit of people in Africa and other poor areas of the globe. Electricity availability to these poor areas of the earth is critical because it is safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper.
Do you really think we could find 8 million hectares of waste land to use for solar (which would be about that 1 % number)?
To estimate this for yourself it would be like putting a pin on a map on every metro area in the world and then bulldozing from the center of the city to the outer suburban edge of it. Once you are out about 5 times the size of the city go ahead and bulldoze the entire circumference of this and everything inside.
The main goal is not to create one large solar farm but to actually increase energy usage to the poorer areas of society and while doing so work towards migrating these villages and tribes to an electric grid.
One day as solar panels become cheaper, longer lasting, more efficient we can build with advanced technology where the cost justifies the benefit to mankind. Until this day building out electricity generation with fuel sources like natural gas and coal to the poorer sections of society is actually the more compassionate way to go.
Solar panels should be implemented on top of rooftops and backyards, not on farmland and deserts. A large solar farm may look good but like we said before it makes no fiscal , enviromental or even humanitarian sense at all.
The report by WWF has an interesting calculation on the land needed because if you used the numbers that First Solar offers with their solar farm you would have to increase that 8 million hectares of land number by 4 making it 32 hectares of land for these solar farms.
Also consider that this power could only be supplied during the day because at night the sun don’t shine and there is no way humanely possible to store that much back up power for night-time use.
At night those solar farms would need to rely on standby fossil fuel power. The WWF report also assumed that people would only use 3,850 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year per person in 2050 but that can’t be right.
Do you know how energy demanding we are as a society? As the power grid expands into Africa and as technology increases we will indeed use much more than this estimate.
China is growing at a ridiculous pace in regards to energy demand and in fact has just ranked as number 1 for being the biggest oil importer in the world. In fact the Chinese are getting ready to mass produce small modular nuclear reactors also called SMR’s.
In summary, these small reactors will likely be the biggest answer to the future energy demands of the world, not solar and will generate about 10 – 20 times more electricity than current solar farms.