Here's Elon Musk's Plan to Power the USA on Solar Energy: "you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States"

Here's Elon Musk's Plan to Power the USA on Solar Energy: "you only need about 100 miles by 100 m...

The full transcript of what he said:

“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,” Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island. “The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”

It’s “a little square on the U.S. map, and then there’s a little pixel inside there and that’s the size of the battery park that you need to support that. Real tiny.”

Sounds feasible? (Of course, as a side effect, if his company got the contract, it would make him the richest man alive most likely).

Sounds like hippie shit, let's build a stupid wall instead

Panel, the 51st state.

Sounds like a modern Manhattan project that would make America great again.

The point behind this statement isn't to actually build the damn thing that way. That'd be ludicrous. You'd lose way too much in transmission. The point of this statement is to show that solar is viable and not as land-intense as people think. There are far more acres of land dedicated to producing and refining fossil fuels than the 6.4 million that this solar facility would use.

Edit: This comment was not meant to be pro-solar or anti-solar. I just noticed that lots of people seemed to be taking this 100x100 mile solar farm idea seriously when it's just being used to show the scale of power production relative to the size of the country an easily digestible way for a lay-person. I've been hearing this same idea or a form of it for about a decade now and it is usually used to show the "footprint" that energy production uses.

Full disclosure: I've done work for wind farms and oil and gas production sites and am in favor of market based solutions such as a carbon tax on fossil fuel production while pumping that tax money into public research into renewables. It's asinine to think we could just shut down the pumps and go green tomorrow, but it's slowly happening more and more every day. It took fossil fuels over a hundred years to get to the massive production, refining, and transportation scales that they are at today. Solar and wind are moving at a blinding pace compared to that. So for all you die hard greenies that think it's not happening quick enough, and to all the coal-rolling rednecks who think they're under attack from liberal commie power, quit getting your panties in a twist. Shit's gonna change at the speed the market and technology will allow whether you like it or not.

Out of solar panels.

Edit: just got off the plane from LAX - Melbourne to see this is my most upvoted comment. Nice!

Looks like the president's sun gets preferential treatment once again.

Panel becomes a state before Puerto Rico and DC

It will basically pay for itself.

Finally someone said it, people in this thread are taking it way too literally.

Cmon people use your brains!

The math: 1 mile is ~1600m. 1m2 gives ~1kW, and we'll assume 25% efficiency, for 250W per m2. This gives 250MW per km2. 160 km x160 km = 25600 km2. This gives a theoretical peak of 6.4 TW. Assuming we can get that for 8 hours a day (out of 12-16 hours a day off sunlight), that averages to 2.13 TW over the whole day.

I'm guessing that Elon is making a slightly more realistic estimate (e.g. accounting for space between panels, real world efficiencies vs. theoretical, etc.) but currently the entire US puts out ~12GWh per day, so it's definitely within an order of magnitude.

Also, just so we're clear, at $1/Watt installed, 2 Terawatt is 2 trillion dollars.

There's always bananas in the solar wall stand.

Sound feasible?

In terms of money? It'd be expensive up front and you'd lose a whole bunch in transmission losses. You're better off with a distributed network. On the other hand, his statement doesn't actually preclude that option.

In terms of power generation? I can't be arsed to exactly check the numbers, but he's well within an order of magnitude. The US doesn't actually consume all that much energy when you look at how much area is available and compare that to the area needed to generate the energy (via any method you like).

Politically? Yeah, it's not happening unless it happens to get built in tiny pieces. This country can't manage the political will to fix a healthcare system everyone agrees is flawed.

The only problem with it is that the money has to come from somewhere and all the entities big enough to provide that sort of money won't. Unfortunately, that makes it about as dead on arrival as being physically impossible would. But then again, is the point he's making that you should power the US on solar and batteries or is it that you can power your house on solar and batteries and by the way he'd like to sell you both - and at a price you can reasonably afford?

Or... orr.... we could just use nuclear power that produces 4000x the energy, producing almost no pollution and using a tiny fraction of the space.

someone's been playing Factorio, i see

It's too expensive. I know Reddit hates to hear this, but nuclear power is too expensive. The only way to make it cheaper than NG and solar/wind is to remove environmental regulations, which are half the reason we want them in the first place.

You're better off with a distributed network.

If you read the full article that is what he is suggesting. The 100 10,000 square mile figure is just an example to show how little land you actually need compared to the entirety of the US.

Obviously you don't put it all in one place. That would be super dumb, and the possibility of possibility of an attack on it is the last reason why. The point of saying "100 by 100 miles" is to point out that we don't need to cover the county in solar panels - quite the opposite: if (for the sake of the argument) you put all the solar panels we need in one single place, it'd still be so small you'd barely see it on a map of the country.

You forgot weather too. And power conversion efficiency through the battery packs for nights / cloudy days (around 95% IIRC in good setups, can be much lower if it's cold or too hot, or if load is very high, etc).

Also peak power is only available on mid day, though I don't remember how much it drops when the sun is lower. It does drop though because of more loss of light in the atmosphere, when the path through the atmosphere is longer. Also the angle it hits the panel at affects absorption rate. Panels that track the sun helps, but then you're also powering those motors for tracking (not much energy required, but it's not zero).

Build it in the ocean.

MANIFEST DESTINY MOTHERFUCKERS

They said that anything west belonged to us

THEY REALLY THOUGHT WE'D STOP AT THE COAST

That's why you do 2 things:

locate the panels in places with the most consistently good weather for generating power, such as the desert.

spread the panels out. Instead of having 100x100miles of panels in one spot, split it up into smaller generator farms spread out over a wide location. Similar to diversifying your assets in the stock market, you insulate yourself from extremes. You'll have an almost 0% chance of "perfect efficiency", but you'll similarly have a greatly reduced chance of sub 50% efficiency, as even splitting it into just 4 quarters spread out with half a day of travel between each would make it vastly less likely for any disadvantageous weather to affect more than 1 or 2

I just drove through Nevada. There's room.

Plus it'd be a bad idea to have all of them in one location since it's weather dependent. Putting all your eggs in one basket kind of thing.

It's not the pants plants that the hard part, it's the infrastructure to distribute the power

If we put the solar panels on the Mexico side, does that mean their sunshine paid for it?

"100 miles by 100 miles" sounds a lot smaller than 10,000 square miles.

Why can't we just install a giant flashlight to shine on the panels and regenerate electricity forever? Or better yet just use the big street lights! That way you get light AND electricity ?

Not to be pedantic but a square with 100 mile sides has an area of 10,000 square miles.

this dude is serious about his thorium

Someone is giving you gold, today.

Not me. But somebody.

Serious question though, let's say we managed this by some miracle, would an attack on it not basically paralyze the country? I understand it's a huge area but it seems like one Nationwide electrical center would be a huge security risk to the country.

It would be almost as dumb as locating most of the world's leading superpower's government within an area of 68 square miles.

Sorry, 68.34.

Plus terrorism..hey the entire US is getting all their power from this one giant mass of equipment in the flat, open desert! One plane could cause nation-wide rolling blackouts.

Couple problems. One, the US electrical infrastructure is not some beautiful interwoven grid. It kind of is, but in reality it's a patchwork system of literally hundreds of utilities. Some are connected- not all, by any means. Two, our system is not designed for long distance transmission- you lose juice along the way. Would require a huge overhaul to do what Musk wants

But optimally, we have the panels in a spot like he says (Nevada or AZ, lots of sunlight), upgrade the grid to allow longer distance transmission, and become renewable.

But he says what he says for the masses- to excite. Doesn't make sense to dampen with caveats, and he figures the non-masses know/can figure it out anyways

I don't think it was a serious suggestion that we try to power the entire country with a single 10,000 sq. mile solar plant, but rather the description was intended to help visualize the relatively small area required to power the entire country with renewable energy.

I'm not highly educated on the subject, but I do vaguely understand that electrical power transmission becomes inefficient with greater and greater distances. Transmitting power to everywhere in the US from a single location would be a nightmare of inefficiency, not to mention a national security risk (talk about putting all your eggs in one basket...). Several smaller solar fields in different sectors of the US sounds more reasonable.

Sounds feasible?

Notice that it is only small on a map. That is a freakingly fucking huge surface to cover at human or even industrial scale.

That's 1000 times bigger than the largest existing solar farm: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topaz_Solar_Farm and that one cost several billions to build.

The better question is: is it feasible for the US to spend several trillions on a single project.

You distribute it locally to avoid transmisson loss and make it more efficiant.

Weather effects

How to move power from corner of nevada to new hampshire

there's a number of other things but that's what i got off the top of my head

Because it's terribly inefficient to transmit legislation over long distances?

ALOHA, BITCHES!

Having all that power localized would be a mistake.

Besides being a considerable target to terrorism and being vulnerable to natural disaster the infrastructure needed to transmit this power would be a massive project on its own.

The better plan would be to have millions of solar plants preferably on site where the power is needed.

That's all the electricity for all of America. Who gives a fuck? Take the land, do the thing, get us off fossil fuels. You're telling me that Texas doesn't have 100x100 miles of shit in that fuckhole of a state? I can tell you right now, I'd donate Witchita Falls.

It'd be expensive up front

we are legitimately going to spend $7 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which accomplished absolutely nothing but screwing things up

Pretty sure we can afford the money to power America renewabley

Someone tell Elon that's a shit ton of solar panels.

no, you idiot! I meant there's literally bananas in the stand!

I went crazy with solar panels. Mine was twice as big as my factory when I realized I had waaaay to much power and not enough mining and automation.

You must construct additional solar panel

Oh you know just the size of vermont

Stupid question: can't we use the existing infrastructure to distribute the power?

you're the guy who invented solar powered torchlights right

It's hard to find anything worse than coal.

That's tiny. I live in New Mexico, and we probably have multiple Vermonts worth of unusable desert.

Interesting you bring that up. Looks like if we wanted to build an extra thick wall along our border with Mexico and put solar panels on top of it, we'd only need to make the wall...gulp...5 miles thick along its entire length. That puts in perspective the little 100 x 100 mi figure Musk is throwing out there. I'm all for solar, but let's be realistic. Somebody show me a city like Dallas and and overlay of how much area worth of solar panels would be needed to sustain it. We're not made to grasp great big areas like the whole country.

at this point they're terribly inefficient regardless, they could literally think legislation towards each other and it'd still take forever.

It's actually a real proposal. He even talked about it in a rally.

We already have the land for that...rooftops!

Find me a non-experimental production Thorium reactor.

Obviously you would not put all the panels in one place... it would be distributed around the country where needed. Half of Elon's idea is about rooftop solar. Weather effects, according to him, would be mitigated by batteries.

We have the money to do plenty of things. We actually do very few of them. It's not a budgetary problem, it's a political one.

Blue Corner IRL

Musk is basically playing Factorio IRL: Solar power, batteries, automated transportation, AND ROCKETS.

So.. less costly than the war in the middle east?

Even in a state as big as Texas, 10,000 square miles is a lot. Texas only has about 200,000 square miles inside its borders, this plant would be 2 5% of the state. Wichita Falls contributes a grand total of 70 square miles. That's solidly 0.7% of what you need. It's not quite pissing in the ocean, but it's damn close. Even at only 2% of the state, you're going to have a political problem getting the land.

On the other hand, I'll bet you can find a good sized chunk of that in just rooftops and parking lots in sunny areas of the country.

edit: arithmetic hard

Well lets be real, this solar farm wouldn't be in one place. The loss of power over the thousands of miles we'd have to send it from any one point would be too large to be useful. It's 10,000 sq miles of solar power spread across fifty states according to necessity.

Ironically enough, I think this has a bit to do with how immature the whole setup is. Despite us being on something like the fifth generation of reactor, nuclear energy still is ridiculously expensive to start up and is impossible to insure without governmental assistance. The cost of a catastrophic failure is impossible for a private company to handle.

Reddit's right that it works, and it works really really well, but with the waste product and the (unlikely) giant risk, it's just not feasible if you're thinking 200 years into the future.

Maybe when AI gets good enough to handle the plant on it's own, we can set up plants in desolate areas.

So 100 miles by 100 miles is 10,000 square miles. Your math is off, because 2 miles by 2 miles is only 4 square miles. To be equitable(not taking into account state population or geographic size, each state would have to contribute 200 square miles, which, if made into a square, comes out to about 14.14 miles in each direction.

If only there were an industry that would become obsolete and an army of people looking for jobs.

With that attitude it is.

Yeah, because Slazman999 told him

We'll take their sols.

I did

Most things are. I mean, the ISS cost 150 billion, and that's a goddamn space station. In space. An entire station.

I've seen this presentation by him before on YouTube or something. He did go on to mention that he doesn't propose building it all in one place, since distribution would then become a huge issue. The example of 100 square miles is just meant to illustrate that it's a very small area, even smaller if distributed.

I'm pretty sure I had this same plan in 6th grade. I called it the BASP--the Big Ass Solar Panel.

Excuse me, this is exactly how we build our power plants in Sim City

Or parking lots. Just make solar roof over every Walmart parking lot. Now people get to park in the shade and bonus, doesn't use any additional land.

is it feasible for the US to spend several trillions on a single project.

ha!!

we spent $7 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Thorium you fuck

Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

I don't think there's any scenario whatsoever that puts the entire electricity supply of the United States in one place. Although it still might not be distributed widely enough to overcome loss during transmission.

So a typical summer wildfire in the PNW?

You don't need terrorism, you just need to wait for an unlucky streak of cloudy/rainy days. I can't believe people are thinking he's literally suggesting to put all the panels in a single place.

If that were efficient, solar would've grown much stronger. Solar radiation, however, isn't the same everywhere, especially in winter, and these calculation refer to areas with arid climate.

Instead, you diversify your power sources and distribute storage units. After all, there's little reason to give up water, wind and geothermal power.

edit: Oh, dear Reddit, the private consumption to run our toasters is incomparable to the strict requirements of the commercial, industrial, manufacturing branches. Again, the calculations are based on the number of days of sunshine and average cloud-coverage of a particular area, i.e. Nevada. The needed space can easily double or quadruple anywhere else.

Also, just because some countries have managed to cover ~8% of theirs annual consumption with solar in a few years, it doesn't mean it is feasible to extend solar fields at the same rate for a lot longer.

If we were to power the US with solar panels and batteries, what effect would that have on the environment? What with the heavy metal mining and battery disposal and whatnot?

Their sons paid for it.

it would make him the richest man alive most likely

As a member of the human species, I am in favor of Elon Musk having a shit ton of money because his priorities seem to be in the right place. We would most definitely have a Mars colony in our lifetimes if Musk became the next Bill Gates.

Holy shit someone tweet Donald he needs to see this.

No it needs to be transparent so a random passerby in the desert doesn't get crushed by a 90kg bale of marijuana launched more than 300 meters across the border wall by Wile E. Coyote and his drug cartel.

Its gotta be in Olympic sized swimming pools, football fields or dollar bills end to end. those are american standard measuremets

http://i.imgur.com/OYjwhOm.png

Sam Walton was also a pretty good guy (IMO) to have a lot of money. He treated his employees well, provided decent paying full time jobs to rural communities, and really meant it when he said he wanted Americans to succeed.

Then his kids inherited the joint.

Thanks, you're right

Rooftop solar is the best approach, practically speaking. Making further use of land that's already developed, with the benefit of the power being produced where it's needed. Reserve batteries are good, but we definitely need to work on technology to make them more efficient and cheaper.

Well Trump has already said this on multiple occasions so i guess he did.

So what does the Reddit nuclear lobby say about this?

That has me curious. How much desert is there in the US? From a quick glance, I would say... 130+ thousand square miles?

People talk about things like Nuclear taking up less space, but... I'm not sure space is even a problem to begin with.

Just making space for more panels so we can power the data centers that serve our cat and pussy pics.

at this point they're terribly inefficient regardless,

at this point, I'm grateful for the inefficiency.

The decentralised nature of wind and solar is also an important leg up these technologies have compared to nuclear reactors.

Someone send this guy to the top.

I think the article is focusing on that part while ignoring the context. Musk already has a plan to the six million acre solar farm. Your home. The 100x100mi square was just to illustrate how little over all space is needed. It wasn't him saying to buy a big ass square out there. If you just did the residential homes in every major city in Texas, DFW, Houston, Austin and SA, that come close to hitting the mark. He might have been better off using that example, but the 100x100 has a good dramatic effect.

Surprised Wal-Mart hasn't done this to save their own power bill.

Most of the middle of Nevada is owned by the federal government. Traditionally it's been used for nukes or aliens or something but they could use it for power instead.

A Fermi problem is a problem with estimation. You're trying to arrive at a reasonable answer even though there are a lot of unknowns. In this case the unknowns are things like, amount of sun on the panels, efficiency of the panels, battery capacity, and use of electricity of the US.

In this case, I think I tried to overestimate the amount of electricity used based on previous reports by the Department of Energy. At the same time I underestimated the amount of sun on the panels and their efficiency. Even with this, I found that a 100 miles by 100 mile grid of panels in the southwest region, like Arizona, was sufficient to meet the US's energy needs. This did not include vehicle energy use.

"Have you heard about my bank account, the Big M T?"

I was pretty sure. The centralized idea has some really serious problems that distributed solutions don't, and Musk isn't a complete idiot. Therefore he had to be advocating a distributed solution. But the question seemed to be about the centralized option, so that's what got addressed.

Amusingly enough, I've previously done a very napkin math version of an adjacent question for nuclear power shortly after Fukishima. The math works out in a similar fashion. It's really easy to power the US off of just about everything but hydro - at least in terms of space required. It might be the case for hydro as well, but it's not napkin math levels of easy to show it.

Walmarts all have skylights in them already to save money. When it actually saves them enough to recoup their investment relatively quickly I'm sure they will

Hate to be that guy, but 10,000 is 5% of 200,000.

Trump literally said this too. https://www.axios.com/trump-pitched-republican-leaders-on-a-solar-paneled-border-wall-2435037888....

We could build great big steam engines, burning plutonium to heat some glacier ice into steam to turn some turbines.

Half the cost and none of the death!

yea good luck getting the citizens of any state to gove up land for that... maybe if it was built in the middle of a desert

According to google (best source, I know) the length of the border with mexico is about 3,201 miles, meaning we'd need just over 3 miles thickness of wall for the same effect (3.124 to be almost exact). Not to detract from your point, because it's still infeasible, but it isn't 5 miles :)

*edit wording because ambiguity

*edit2: I'm a bad old bear, that's km in this post. in miles it really is just over 5 miles thick. hot diggity daffodil

you'd lose a whole bunch in transmission losses.

Not as much as you might think. 800kV HVDC over 800km gives 2.6% transmission losses, i.e. 10% loss over 2,000 miles. Which is the Boston - Arizona distance so mean losses would be rather less.

It'd be one hell of a lot in absolute terms, but we're certainly not talking orders of magnitude.

Did you just figure out how to make both the left and right happy at the same time

dick pics

Those don't take up as much space as the people sending them assume they do.

It would be more economical to build the solar installation on the ground. If they're on the wall, it's to be a talking point.

It's funny how a spot already designated to be 100 miles away from its farthest city, the yucca mountain repository to Las Vegas, allows for nuclear reactors to run and have a place for permanent water disposal of spent nuclear fuel and it doesn't get support but ideas that provide more expensive energy are considered superior.

It needs to be known that nuclear energy is safe, clean, cheap, and efficient. There are 7700 power plants in the US, and 99 are nuclear, but nuclear produced 20% of the US energy for the year; all emission free.

It would cover all the Bay Area in central west California...including the water.

edit] interestingly, we did have a candidate for some office way back when (the '80s) who wanted to bulldoze all the hills and fill in the bays.

not sure if this is it...

It's too expensive because Greenies and NIMBYs fight it legally tooth and nail holding up the process for decades.

200 years into the future? I thought that if we don't start using nuclear instead of fossil fuels we're supposed to be dead and drowned by then.

You joke, but that's basically the idea behind putting giant solar reflectors in orbit.

1000 times

Huh. That actually sounds really doable, then.

"Have you heard about our new electric car, the Model 3?"