He spends a lot of time thinking about the world’s big problems and coming up with possible solutions, and it’s probably high time we all start listening to what he has to say. Recently, Musk offered his take on powering the entire United States with solar power, and the more his suggestion is analyzed, the more sense it makes. Essentially, he proposes that the whole country could be powered by “a little corner of Nevada or Utah” and that, if government leaders cooperated and invested in infrastructure, it could happen in as little as 15 years. Is it really possible?
In the midst of the UN climate conference, Musk gave an address in Paris on December 2 to global policy makers and business leaders. During that speech, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO suggested that a very small segment of land could be used to capture solar energy and convert it into enough electricity to power the entire nation. “It’s a very small amount of area that’s actually needed to generate the electricity we need to power civilization,” he said, “or in the case of the U.S., a little corner of Nevada or Utah, to power the entire United States.”
The science behind Musk’s recommendation is solid. More than enough solar energy beams down on the U.S. each hour to match the electricity consumed in a whole year. We’re just not capturing it. In 2014, solar power accounted for only 0.39 percent of the country’s energy consumption. Musk envisions a nation eventually run entirely on solar power, with solar taking the lead among energy sources by 2031.
To illustrate Musk’s concept, the Land Art Generator Initiative created a number of maps showing how little real estate would be necessary to generate the electricity needed. Based on a 20 percent conversion rate, which is optimal lab performance for solar panels, an area approximately the size of Spain is all the U.S. would need to source 100 percent of its electricity from a clean, low-cost, renewable source.
Now, if only we can figure out a way to get politicians and the energy industry on board with this no-brainer plan.