Can the United States run entirely on solar power? Tesla CEO Elon Musk has already developed a plan of action to make it happen. The goal is to combine solar rooftops with utility-scale solar, and it’s more manageable than you might think.
At the National Governors Association Summer Meeting, Musk got on the topic of the solar industry. He labeled the sun as a “giant fusion reactor in the sky” and discussed how we should take advantage of its energy. In order to fuel the entire country, Musk explained how there could be a large solar array paired with a square mile of batteries.
“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States. The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile. That’s it”
As of right now, a number of issues prevent solar generation from being as efficient as it could be. Some examples include how the sun is obviously only available during certain parts of the day, overheating can keep panels from generating electricity properly, and the fact that they need to be properly maintained.
Still, Musk details how this type of renewable energy is the most reliable because the sun is everywhere and it comes up every day. He notes, “If it wasn’t for the sun, we’d be a frozen, dark ice ball. The amount of energy that reaches us from the sun is tremendous. It’s the 99 percent-plus of all energy that Earth has.”
It wouldn’t be feasible to have all of our electricity run on one big solar array, but it provides an image of how little it would take for the sun to power the United States. The likely solution will be a mixture of solar rooftops and solar farms generating power for areas that aren’t as efficient. This would provide more localized power and less power lines. Musk said that people don’t like these “transmission lines going through their neighborhood.”
Transitioning to solar power won’t happen overnight, and Musk brought up other sustainable sources that would aid during the switch. Fossil fuels would still be used, but they’d continue to be cut back. More wind turbines, hydropower plants, and geothermal systems will be installed. An acceptance for many to install solar panels and rooftops would need to be adopted; and Tesla will almost certainly be pushing their Solar Roof as production ramps up in the future.
One criticism Musk, and others who are pushing for sustainable energy, faces is that they're often accused of pushing aside those who still work in the fossil fuel industry. In fact, the entrepreneur doesn’t like how oil and gas companies have been portrayed as an enemy.
Ultimately, the savings of carbon dioxide emissions are great if the country switches to solar power. As of 2016, electricity accounted for of CO2 emissions in the air. That’s over 35 percent of the total emissions from the US. While better than it was over a decade ago, Musk could have a tremendous gameplan to fix the problem.