It’s true, the United States could potentially be ran solely on solar energy if we dedicated 11.2 million acres of land to solar power absorption. So, why are we not throwing up solar panels left and right and solving all of our energy problems immediately?
Unfortunately, as with most things on a country-wide scale, it’s not that simple.
We’re not saying it would be easy, but we are saying that it’s very possible and something we can strive to achieve in the coming years if we’re as serious about fighting climate change as we want to be. As the video posits, “we reached the moon 7 years after president Kennedy declared our intention to do so… Should we have the same ambition for renewable energy?”
The answer is ‘yes’! But first, there are a few hurdles in our path that we need to figure out how to get around.
We would actually need more than 11.2 million acres of land, because things like service roads, operating facilities and energy transmission lines will cause the required infrastructure to expand greatly. The other side of this is that we also can’t just pick out a giant 12 million acre span of land dedicated to solar energy--we’d need to spread out the solar array over a wide area of the United States to combat circumstances like inclement weather and gloomy days where the sun isn’t reaching our solar farms very well.
The best place for these solar energy farms would be in the desert, as one might expect. This also requires meticulous planning, as there are Native American tribal lands that cannot be encroached upon, as well as delicate wildlife habitats and ecosystems to avoid disturbing.
Perhaps the biggest problem we face in achieving this goal, however, has to due with how capable we are at storing excess energy for the inevitable interruptions to power relay and distribution. We won’t be able to constantly be storing energy, as the country does not sit in the sun 24/7, so we need a way to store enough energy to cover the entire country at any given time.
This is going to require absolutely massive batteries. Ryan Carlyle, a Quora user and chemical engineer working “in the oil industry as an engineer for deepwater well control equipment,” recently wrote about just how large of a storage system we would need to cover at least four days of backup energy for the country. His conclusion? A battery that could hold a combined capacity of 45.5 TWh, or terawatt hours--45.5 trillion watts of power, at least.
For perspective, the Nishi-Sendai Substation Battery Energy Storage System Project in Japan, which is the largest battery storage facility on Earth, has a capacity of about 40,000 KWh. This is a very small fraction needed to to cover all of America’s energy needs. In Fairbanks, Alaska, we have one of the biggest battery facilities in the U.S., and it only stores 27,000 KWh, and it cost around $35 million to build. So, not only is it not cheap to build these storage facilities, but we’d need a large number of them.
So, while the road to 100 percent reliance on clean energy is going to be long, expensive and most likely political, it is not unattainable or impossible. Especially if our planet depends on it, we need to start making investments that will benefit not just the human race, but the entire world.