Can The World Be Powered By Solar Alone?
As the world continues to strive to lower its carbon footprint and explore sources of energy that we can turn into power as efficiently and cleanly as possible, it turns out we may have undervalued the number one resource available to us, the sun. Solar is by far the largest, most reliable source of energy available all around the world and yet we are not using it to our full potential. Why? Well…
As you can see from the image above, the sun can provide us with more than enough energy then we need each year, 860,000 times what we need to be exact. That means we’re wasting the opportunity to capitalise on this energy source.
It’s also the perfect time to start taking advantage of the sun’s power…
In Britain, Solar broke the record for weekly output (between 21st – 28th of June 2018) for the first time, producing 533 gigawatt hours of power, more than Gas, Nuclear, Wind and the rest, generating 27.8% of all energy supplies at one point. During that seven-day period, it also generated 75GWh on five of the seven days, which was another record and in a first, solar output also hit more than 8GW for eight consecutive days.
The next question to answer is if we were to capitalise on this now, where would we put the solar panels? We obviously need somewhere sunny and one of the best places for this is the Sahara Desert, not only due to the amount of sun it gets but also because there is little to no life in this area whatsoever, so the issue of disturbing natural habitats is minimal if not none existent.
Mehran Moalem, PhD, UC Berkeley Professor and Expert on Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Fuel Cycle states that,
“If we cover an area of the Earth 335 kilometres by 335 kilometres with solar panels, even with moderate efficiencies achievable easily today, it will provide more than 17,4 TW power. This area is 43,000 square miles. The Great Saharan Desert in Africa is 3.6 million square miles and is prime for solar power (more than twelve hours per day). That means 1.2% of the Sahara Desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy.”
Looking ahead to the not too distant future, it’s been estimated that by the year 2030, energy consumption will rise to 715 exajoules. The Land Art Generator Initiative has come up with this map where the areas chosen are based on the required area (496,805 square kilometres) that would be needed in the year 2030. The map is also based on the assumption of 20% operating efficiency of collection devices and that there will be 2000 hour per year natural solar input of 1000 watts per square metre striking the surface of the panels, which would need to be distributed around the world to localise as much as possible plus receive 24/7 sunlight.
Professor Moalem also predicts that the cost of this project would be around $5 trillion. To put this into context, that’s the same amount of money that the world spends on the military and its weapons over three years ($1.7 trillion per year/$5.1 trillion), what the U.S. spent on Wars in the Middle-East and Asia since 2001 ($5.6 trillion) and the amount of money Americans spend on fast food over 13 years ($5.08 trillion).
However, the cost may decrease as the cost of producing power from solar is declining too. According to a report on Business Insider, it now only costs $50 to produce one megawatt-hour of solar power, a decrease of 86% since 2009, whereas coal remains high at $102.