Quantcast

Elon Musk: We Can Power America by Covering Small Corner of Utah With Solar

Business

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has once again championed the incredible potential of renewable energy.

During an interview Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, the 44-year-old CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX said that the U.S. could meet its electricity needs just by covering a small corner of Utah or Nevada with solar panels.

His remark was captured in this tweet from Nature News reporter Lauren Morello, who was at the event:

Musk made a similar statement during his speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Dec. 2.

"Let's say if the only thing we had was solar energy—if that was the only power source—if you just took a small section of Spain you could power all of Europe," he said. "It's a very small amount of area that's actually needed to generate the electricity we need to power civilization. Or in the case of the U.S., like a little corner of Nevada or Utah would power the United States."

While Musk's statement might sound a little too good to be true, as Tech Insider reporter Rebecca Harrington noted, we already have the technology to do it. More power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in an entire year, yet solar only provided 0.39 percent of the energy used in the U.S. last year.

This is why Musk thinks that solar will become the biggest energy source by 2031, as he told Tim Urban from Wait But Why. If solar is 20 percent efficient at turning solar energy into power, as it has been in lab tests, we'd only need to cover a land area about the size of Spain to power the entire Earth renewably in 2030.

Indeed, photovoltaic technology is growing in leaps and bounds. In October, renowned solar installer SolarCity (where Musk sits as chairman) unveiled a solar panel that can achieve a peak efficiency of 22.04 percent, and that's just for residential rooftops. On an industrial scale, the world’s most efficient solar cell has about double the efficiency of SolarCity's new panels at 44.7 percent.

The Land Art Generator Initiative also crunched the numbers and determined that the surface area required to power the whole world with solar would fit into 191,817 square miles of solar panels, or roughly the area of Spain.

Here's the math the project group calculated: “678 quadrillion Btu (the US Energy Information Administration's estimation of global energy consumption by 2030) = 198,721,800,000,000 kilowatt-hours (simple conversion) divided by 400 kilowatt-hours of solar energy production per square meter of land (based on 20 percent efficiency, 70 percent sunshine days per year and the fact that 1,000 watts of solar energy strikes each square meter of land on Earth) = 496,805 square kilometers of solar panels (191,817 square miles)."

Let's remember that this calculation is just for solar power alone. This doesn't even factor in all the other sources of renewable energy such as wind, geothermal, biomass or hydroelectric power.

Watch Musk's speech from Paris about clean energy future in the video below. In the clip, which starts at 29:41, Musk answers an audience member's question about the option of "sustainable" nuclear energy, but adds that he's a bigger proponent of the "big fusion power plant in the sky called the sun."

Here's the full text of his speech in Paris:

I actually think that nuclear fission, if it's in location that is not subject to natural disasters like in the case of France, there's a very high percentage of nuclear, I think that's actually a good thing. Obviously, you don't want to have nuclear fission power plants in places that are subject to natural disasters [30:00] because that obviously can go wrong. I think fission is a good approach.

Fusion is also interesting and it's exciting to see what's happening with ITER Project, which is a fusion plant that's being built in France. I do think fusion is a feasible technology. I think we can definitely make fusion work, but it is a far off technology. So to make fusion at the power plant level work is probably, I don't know, 30 years away and a lot of effort.

That's why at least for now and I think maybe even in the long-term, I'm a proponent of using the big fusion power plant in the sky called the sun. The sun is a giant fusion explosion and it shows up every day. If we have photovoltaics, solar panels, we can capture that fusion energy. It also needs to be stored in a battery so we can use it at night. Then we want to have high power lines to transfer solar energy from one place to another.

Let’s say if the only thing we had was solar energy—if that was the only power source—if you just took a small section of Spain you could power all of Europe. It’s a very small amount of area that’s actually needed to generate the electricity we need to power civilization. Or in the case of the U.S., like a little corner of Nevada or Utah would power the United States.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Donald Trump Loses Supreme Court Appeal Against Scottish Wind Farm

Fossil Fuel Stocks Tumble, Renewable Energy Stocks Soar

San Diego Passes Strongest City-Wide 100% Clean Energy Law in America

This U.S. Town Plans to Disconnect From the Grid and Go 100 Percent Renewables

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on Sept. 19 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Amazon

The day before over 1,500 Amazon.com employees planned a walkout to participate in today's global climate strike, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping plan for the retail and media giant to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris agreement schedule.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Winona LaDuke

For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.

Read More Show Less
The climate crisis often intensifies systems of oppression. Rieko Honma / Stone / Getty Images Plus

By Mara Dolan

We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.

Read More Show Less
Lana Del Rey: "call her Doris Doomsday." Darren Gerrish / BFC / Getty Images Entertainment

By Emer McHugh

Popular music has, and always will be, informed by the political and social contexts from which it emerges.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Naveena Sadasivam

It was early in the morning last Thursday, and Jonathan Butler was standing on the Fred Hartman Bridge, helping 11 fellow Greenpeace activists rappel down and suspend themselves over the Houston Ship Channel. The protesters dangled in the air most of the day, shutting down a part of one of the country's largest ports for oil.

Read More Show Less
We already have a realistic solution in the Green New Deal—we just lack the political will. JARED RODRIGUEZ / TRUTHOUT

By C.J. Polychroniou

Climate change is by far the most serious crisis facing the world today. At stake is the future of civilization as we know it. Yet, both public awareness and government action lag way behind what's needed to avert a climate change catastrophe. In the interview below, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin discuss the challenges ahead and what needs to be done.

Read More Show Less
FDA

Food manufacturer General Mills issued a voluntary recall of more than 600,000 pounds, or about 120,000 bags, of Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour this week after a sample tested positive for a bacteria strain known to cause illness.

Read More Show Less