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  • Writer's pictureTiana Starks

All Of US Could Be Powered By Solar Alone?

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Critics of solar power are often very wrong-headed about this clean, renewable source of electricity. One of the most misleading claims is that there simply can’t be enough of it to be meaningful. They seem to be unaware of various facts stating solar power in the US could easily supply electricity to 40% of the country or more, at least.

For example, a research study conducted by NREL found that about 40% of US electricity generation could be provided by rooftop solar power. “Across all building sizes, rooftop PV could provide 1.1 TW of electrical power and 1432 TWh of annual energy generation. That’s 39% of total electricity sales in 2013! Two-thirds of this potential comes from smaller residential buildings as opposed to commercial sites, which means that personal consumer decisions to install solar panels can be a primary driver for the industry’s growth.”

There’s another idea floating around that the continental US’s electricity generation could be handled by solar power. “Just 11,200,000 acres to generate 4,000,000 GWh of clean energy?”

What land, though? Wouldn’t some of it have to be open space that is already used by wild animals and plants?

Yes, some of the land might have to be altered by constructing solar power plants.

However, large commercial buildings, residential building rooftops, single-family residence rooftops, parking lot rooftops, and parking lot canopies can provide space for solar power systems too.

One source stated that California could produce several times its energy requirement using solar power, without requiring a great deal of open space. So, there are a number of solar power scenarios for the US, and that fact is not surprising.

Elon Musk is sort of a clean energy and EV celebrity — what does he say about this potential situation? “If you wanted to power the entire U.S. 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, to make sure you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square mile. That’s it.”

Now, that’s an interesting perspective, because he is talking about using what sounds like parts of states that have a lot of open, unused land, which typically is considered to be void of natural resources for utilization by humans. Ecologists and biologists might strenuously disagree with this characterization and say that actually these areas are important ecosystems and they can’t be simply covered in huge fields of solar power arrays without some significant consequences. Or it could just be a generic calculation and example he’s providing to try to put the matter in perspective.

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