This Is How Much Land It Would Take To Power The Entire U.S. With Solar – Video

11 months ago by Electric CarsTV 83

Solar City Video Capture

Solar City Video Capture

When put into perspective, it’s rather shocking to see how little land area it would take to power the entire U.S. by solar.

Recently, Elon Musk took to Facebook to share a Solar City video that shows the amount of land we’d need to set aside for solar to power this country.

Here’s what Musk stated:

“We may not power the United States entirely on solar, but if we did, it would take a rather small fraction of the land area: Watch the SolarCity video on how much land would it take? Probably not what you think!”

The U.S. has vast amounts of unoccupied land, so why not set some aside and power this entire nation by the sun.

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83 responses to "This Is How Much Land It Would Take To Power The Entire U.S. With Solar – Video"

  1. SparkEV says:

    It’s not just US that has vast unoccupied land. If you squeeze world’s population into land to result in population density of Hong Kong or Singapore, everyone would fit into land the size of CA + Texas. There’s plenty of land.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      According to one book title, we could all Stand on Zanzibar

      But not very practical when there’s no room to move, let alone lie down or sit at the dinner table.

      1. kdawg says:

        This is one of my fav “What Ifs”

        https://what-if.xkcd.com/8/

        “What would happen if everyone on earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?”

        1. Scramjett says:

          I’d be the only one still in Cal sipping a mojito and enjoying the quiet.

    2. jerryd says:

      Sparky,
      Solar doesn’t need any land as we have enough roof
      area .
      With solar well shopped is under $2/kw, sun electric for parts and local electrician to permit, install is under $.06/kwhr retail which no utility can compete with.

  2. Four Electrics says:

    If the cells are in the southwestern US, you need less land for solar but more land for electrical transmission lines. If you disperse the solar, you need fewer additional lines but more total land area. There’s also the land necessary for overnight and seasonal storage.

    1. RexxxSeee says:

      Ah you found something to criticized anything without hydrocarbons…

      The future is to the solar rooftops + storage batteries. They will soon be so cheap that they will beat the cost of the transmission lines maintenance alone, supposing that the source would be free!

      https://www.youtube.com/user/tonyseba

      https://www.ted.com/talks/al_gore_the_case_for_optimism_on_climate_change
      (Jump to 12:30)

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Rooftop solar is sufficient for many or most single-family homes, but in dense urban areas, a detailed study suggests the available area on rooftops is only about 20% of what you’d actually need to power a city.

        Sadly, most of the solar power studies, such as the one highlighted in this article, assume only optimal conditions. Even in the American Southwest, it’s occasionally cloudy.

        A more realistic study would show that we’d need about four to five times a much area to allow for cloudy days, and — I’m estimating here — maybe 20% more to allow for access roads and infrastructure.

        And who knows how much more room we’d need for whatever we’d be using to store power for night-time use.

        Now, don’t get me wrong. Eventually I think solar power will replace most other forms of power generation except for hydroelectric and, perhaps, geothermal. But we need to solve the problem of affordable large-scale energy storage first. Li-ion batteries aren’t nearly cheap enough for truly large scale storage of grid power, and probably never will be. (And by “large scale”, I’m thinking of something with much bigger capacity than a few Tesla PowerPacks.)

    2. przemo_li says:

      Yes. The total here include only solar energy “plant” and not infrastructure.

      But we want such a resilient infrastructure regardless of what is generating power.

      USA is also in that good position where central government can dictate and oversee such thing.

      EU (and Poland where I live), can only add some flexibility at the edges.

    3. sven says:

      The difference between west coast peak sun and east coast peak sun would be three hours. It might be a good idea (more efficient) to overbuild and spread out the solar arrays coast to coast in the entire southern U.S. to flatten out the solar-power-generation bell curve by three hours across the four U.S. time zones, rather than generating and storing excess peak generation only from the southwest. The coast-to-coast dispersed solar arrays would track peak sum from the west coast to the east coast.

      1. RexxxSeee says:

        Of course you understand that the concentration of panels is just to show how few land it takes. Actual panels will be scrambled everywhere, there is virtually no limits. Even in nothern countries the panels gain as much as 1° of efficiency per degree below zero. And the steeper angle required to catch the sun helps clean the panels as the snow fall off rapidly. Nor mentioning the increased albedo where there is snow all around the panels.

        1. Samwise says:

          Quite possibly a single pixel line across the states might have even better highlighted the small requirements while also showing what an actual implementation might look like 🙂

      2. M Hovis says:

        Right on sven. Actually, I like this combined with smallish battery reserve and would make a world of difference.

      3. Stephen Hodges says:

        I would like the superconducting transatlantic cable, to bring Sahara power across, though really you need one right round the world. Ah, the future.

    4. EV Driver says:

      Four electrics must be short for “against electrics”

      1. Will Davis says:

        He’s just Three Oil companies, this time called Four Oil Companies. Don’t mind him; he’s been trolling us with his anti-renewables nonsense for over a year now.

        1. sven says:

          How the heck is suggesting to “disperse the solar” in any way considered trolling? How is anything that Four Electrics said in his comment even remotely described as trolling? If anything, it’s EV Driver and you, Will Davis, that are doing the trolling in this thread.

          1. Phr≡d says:

            His hero doesn’t like 3E, hence his precise repeat.

            i.e., if you didn’t see this coming..

      2. TomArt says:

        What are you talking about? Can’t you read?

    5. Four Electrics says:

      Don’t forget that we need factories to make these solar panels. They take up a lot of land, too. Mining for the raw materials needed to construct the panels takes even more land. You also probably need thousands of miles of roadways to transfer the solar panels to the where they are going to be installed.

  3. Cavaron says:

    How much acres do all the roofs in the U.S. have? And maybe we should halve that number, because some of them face north.

    1. RexxxSeee says:

      I read that only half of the total roofs would be enough to generate all the power needed, all industries included.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Whoever made that claim was amazingly clueless on the subject.

    2. sven says:

      Google would know. Check out Project Sunroof.

      https://www.google.com/get/sunroof#p=0

  4. Jacked Beanstalk says:

    Imagine if instead of blowing $1 Trillion in Iraq we had upgraded the grid to distribute power from a centrally generated source in the southwest.

    1. Cavaron says:

      But we had to find the weapons of mass destructions in Iraq and bring peace to the country… uhm… never mind…

    2. Phatcat73 says:

      But then Halliburton wouldn’t be able to profit from war. Poor guys

      1. How about…”Haliburton profit from war” was given a new “Solar War Bond Energy Tax”, and their War Profits, were taxed at a 50% higher rate than companies nit profitking from War? Also, for every $1 they spend in war activities, $0.10 is required to be spent on Solar and Wind Energy production, and Energy Storage!

        Maybe the same could be said and applied to Boeing’s Weapons of War Manufacturing Divisions? Let’s also include Lockheed, and other commercial war profiting industry, too! While we are at it, shouldn’t the CIA be required to work to developing secure energy production and storage, too? And – how about Homeland Security – why does it also not have a Mandate to develop, install, and expand secure energy sources and storage?

  5. leafowner says:

    If we used some of the 11 TRILLION Obama rang up in debt over the past 8 years for something other than total give-aways to buy votes maybe we’d be better off today.

    1. Bob says:

      You forgot the link to a neutral source for your numbers…

      1. Nick says:

        Hahaha!

        +1

    2. georges says:

      God is this the Wall Street Journal.

    3. TomArt says:

      Find yourself some other place to live in that dreamworld of yours. Most of us pay attention here, and so you’re toast.

    4. super390 says:

      1. But Solar WAS the giveaway according to right-wing critics. Solyndra! Solyndra!

      2. The main source of the deficit is the simple fact that in an economic crash, tax receipts collapse. If you try to cut government services to offset, then economic activity crashes further because people have already panicked, and then tax receipts fall further. If you try to raise taxes to offset, people like you whine about it. No-win.

    5. Mister G says:

      Wait a minute…if you compare 2008 to 2016..America is doing way better, unless you want to MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN..and that will never happen LOL

  6. Michael says:

    We self installed 1KW of Grid Tied Solar last year. Was really simple. Would be glad to help others. Hardest part was the building permit and the utility interconnect agreement. The actual installation was about a weekend of puttering.

    1. Speculawyer says:

      1kw? If you are going to bother pulling the permits you should install much more than that!

      1. Jelloslug says:

        In some areas the permits would only cost $100 or so.

        1. Speculawyer says:

          It is not the permit fee that is the issue . . . it is the time spent drawing up plans, getting the plans approved, constructing the system, getting it inspected, etc. He is quite correct that there is a fair amount of hassle in all that (and that is one of the reasons we need to streamline solar PV permitting and installation), so if you are going to go through all that hassle, you might as well install a decent sized system!

          The solar PV panels are dirt cheap . . . it is the engineering, permitting, conduits, shut-off switches, breakers, wiring, etc. that make up more than half the cost. You have to do all of those things whether the system is small or big and they cost pretty much same whether the system is small or big . . . so it makes much more sense to install a system that is as big as you can make it. The only parts that cost more for the bigger system is a few more panels, more racking, and a larger inverter.

    2. heisenberghtbacktotheroots says:

      “the utility interconnect agreement”

      yeah, somehow the utilities seem to be not interested that people produce their own electricity… I really wonder why 😉

      Let’s face it. Utilities fight hard to survive. They are a dying species…

      1. Speculawyer says:

        Yep. They are starting to push back hard. That Nevada Energy situation is a mess. But that is the way the world goes. Technology wiped out travel agents & newspapers too.

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Michael said:

      “We self installed 1KW of Grid Tied Solar last year.”

      Well, I suppose that would put a dent in your monthly electric bill, but only 1 kW is wholly inadequate for a modern house, even an energy-efficient one. A single microwave oven or hair dryer uses 1 kW of power, or even a bit more.

  7. Speculawyer says:

    “The U.S. has vast amounts of unoccupied land, so why not set some aside and power this entire nation by the sun.”

    Because you don’t even need to or want to do that. Rooftop solar provides dual usage of land as both housing and solar pv production. And since it is located right where the power is consumed, you don’t need transmission lines! Some solar farms are fine but Rooftop has big advantages.

    1. heisenberghtbacktotheroots says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. There are so many people out there who don’t even know that their roof would be sufficient to power their home completely.

    2. no comment says:

      a big problem is one of economics: the LCOE of solar is high relative to conventional power sources. government incentives, such as tax credits and rebates, can help a great deal; but i think that the reality is that at some point in time there is going to be a need to tax energy use more heavily in order to make renewable sources more compelling. that would also drive people to construct more energy efficient houses and to drive more energy efficient cars. but addressing this issue is ultimately a political problem…

      1. M Hovis says:

        I beg to differ in that solar is rapidly moving toward $3/watt which is very affordable. Tax energy while fossil fuel still gets huge subsidies both in the form of tax breaks and medical subsidies for the particulate matter illnesses that they are not responsible for and the carbon damages to the planet that they are not responsible for?
        If the grid was better connected, as sven often points out, we would not need near the batteries, but while we wait, a 7-10kWh residential battery combined with a solar array, would provide the elimination to peak demand eliminating many fossil fuel plants. Solar alone is not a silver bullet, but it alone could relieve the stress of the grid more than any other element. Utilities will always have a place, it’s just that their place is changing and they don’t like it.

        1. no comment says:

          when it comes to economics, what counts is energy and not power, because that is how people pay for electricity. right now, coal and gas are a lot cheaper than PV. i pay around $0.10/kwh retail, so that means that the wholesale price is probably about 1/3 that amount.

          the reason why i stated higher taxes for energy usage is because it: a)causes people to use less energy; and b)makes the payback period of rooftop PV better. at present, expansion of the use of renewable energy sources is going to require government subsidies, in general.

          i agree to the idea of eliminating subsidies for fossil fuel generation but the way that the accounting system is set up, they are probably still going to have some means of writing off exploration costs. what taxation does is control demand for fossil fuel.

          as to PV in the grid (although you said “solar” and not PV specifically), first, i think that local batteries (such as at distribution hubs after the step-down transformers) make a lot of sense. second, for large scale PV, it might make more sense to distribute power using high voltage dc and putting inverters at distribution hubs. you would probably need fairly long haul links for the economics to work out, though.

          1. Tim says:

            I saw that Dubai just got a bid to install a solar farm at a $.045/kWh cost. Solar will, very likely in the next 2 years, be the cheapest way to generate electricity.

            1. no comment says:

              that’s a pretty impressive LCOE for PV solar. the PV solar projects that i have seen were several times that amount.

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Any urban area with housing more dense than single-family dwellings will need supplemental power, and you aren’t gonna put in solar farms in the middle of a city where property values are high.

      Likewise, many or perhaps even most commercial and industrial buildings will need more power than they can collect from their roofs.

      Tesla’s Gigafactory is a good example. It’s a low flat building which is being designed to get maximum solar power from its rooftop, but will still need supplemental power from nearby wind farms covering a substantial area. And very likely will need supplemental grid power on days when it’s cloudy and/or the wind is still.

  8. Loek says:

    Another untapped potential could be the center median of freeways. They are generally free of shading since they have a nice wide freeway on either side. You could build dual axis tracking mounts to follow the sun. No real set aside of land.

    1. vdiv says:

      That median is there for a purpose, cars end up in it all the time. Besides it accumulates a lot of dust and dirt, especially when it rains and snows. Not sure it is a good location for solar, however light poles along the roads are a good place as the wiring is in place and the panel is high up and out of the way.

    2. cmina says:

      you mean like this ?

      1. Wow! That video shows a zone that is only about 5 Metres wide, that not only works to work on addressing Solar PV Energy production, but also adds two bike lanes under the shaded area for alternative transportation solutions!

        Also, on my last three days of driving, from Toronto to Orlando, of the some 2,100 Kms of road I drove on, most of the Freeways medians between the opposing traffic lanes, had a Median of at least 10 Metres, and much was up to 30 Metres wide!

        True, some of the areas still had standing trees in the medians, but there was probably about a Thousand (1,000) Kms of the trip that could add a 5 to 15 Metre wide Solar PV run, and not even begin to interfere with the basic purpose of the median, and in some states that allow NEV’s, or LSV’s (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, or Low Speed Vehicles), where the Solar PV track was wide enough, they could make an allowance for them to drive there, like the bikes, in this video!

    3. Priusmaniac says:

      In Belgium a part of the high speed train line to Amsterdam was covered with solar pannels.
      More details here:
      http://www.solarsolutionscharlotte.com/online-news/solar-tunnel-built-on-belgian-high-speed-rail-line/

  9. St John says:

    Let me check with Exxon about that idea !!!!

  10. Someone out there says:

    So do it then? It should be mentioned that SolarCity is one of the most expensive solar installers on the market. If they wanted more solar panels they could start by lowering their prices. When solar gets cheap enough to compete you don’t have to “force” people (i.e. taking someone’s money by force and giving it to someone else) to go solar, they will happily do it themselves.

    1. Speculawyer says:

      Yeah, of Elon’s 3 companies . . . SolarCity is the least impressive. It is largely just an name-brand installation company. But why do you need that? The local installer can do that for less. They do have some advantages . . . they’ve streamlined their designs, they buy PV equipment in bulk, they are building their own PV panel factory, the bought the ZIP racking equipment, etc. But I’m not sure that stuff makes them that much better than Joe local installer.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        You think you can find a local solar installer who will let you just lease the installation, with $0 down, instead of actually buying it? A local installer that offers something similar to SolarCity’s “pay as you go” plan?

        Good luck with that.

      2. sven says:

        IIRC, the SolarCity is not building the factory. The property owner is building the factory and SolarCity will be renting it out.

        FWIW, the property owner was a big contributor to Governor Cuomo’s campaign, and now the “Buffalo Billion” in tax breaks and tax subsidies allocated to Buffalo (including those allocated to SolarCity) is under federal and state investigation for corruption, as is NY Governor Cuomo. The former head of the NY Senate will be sentenced next week for corruption, and will join his predecessor who is already behind bars for corruption. Last week the former head of the NY Assembly was sentenced to jail for corruption. Political power in NYS has been decribed as “three men in a room” who decide everything: the governor, the senate leader, and the assembly leader. So the two former senate and assembly leaders are in/going-to prison for corruption, while the the governor is under investigation for corruption. To add to that the NYC mayor (perhaps the sleaziest of them all) is also under investigation for corruption, and there are numerous other political figure who have recently been sent to prison for corruption. NY politics is the world’s biggest cesspool.

    2. super390 says:

      It was the subsidies in countries like Germany that convinced investors that it was worth making a major effort in wind and solar. Only then did the price collapse.
      The US subsidized canals, railroads, and highways over the last 200 years. Maybe markets are not self-starting because short-sighted people cling to the status quo until evidence is overwhelming.

      1. Someone out there says:

        Yeah subsidies can be effective to kickstart something but this project goes far beyond kickstarting. There are already programs to subsidize solar panels, that’s enough.

  11. GREG JONES says:

    I agree. I run a successful hvac business, and i help client navigate payback of efficiency upgrades everyday. I was given the opportunity to install a large solar array on my home and business. We consume about $250/month in energy with super high efficiency heat pumps/forced air. Previous to upgrading i was spending $600 per month.

    This large solar array was a trade opportunity, so i was even more interested. It was going to be a 10,000watt installation, 40 panels (250watts each). The installation with panels ajd installation was good, at about $3.50 per watt installed after rebates, so about $35,000 net. Here where i live in Utah, those panels would produce about $100 per month.

    I would love solar, but its a terrible investment, at least here locally where i live. Either power rates would have to triple (at least), or solar production per dollar would have to triple. Ill wait for now. More of the country is in my boat than not. Let the free market do this industry some help and get out of the business of subsidizing winners and loosers and wasting our tax dollars on something that is a net energy looser.

    There are much more cost effective ways to save money.

    1. goodbyegascar says:

      Loser.

    2. Speculawyer says:

      You run an HVAC biz but you can’t install your own solar PV?

    3. TomArt says:

      If the Free Market fantasy worked, then we wouldn’t need subsidies and other incentives. Free markets do not exist, primarily because they do not work – not fast enough, not efficient enough, to solve problems fast enough to avoid disaster.

      1. super390 says:

        Actually, there are deeper problems than speed. Free markets can be too fast, as in a speculative bubble. In “The Origin of Financial Crises”, George Cooper explains that the normal price-balancing function in markets doesn’t work if a product is bought not for its current value, but because of a belief in a rise in its future value. Any rise in its current price just goes to confirm that it will keep rising, and demand will skyrocket until this is proven wrong. This can happen too fast for any authority to stop, if they’re even willing to try.

        As to the problem of markets failing to avoid disasters, here the problem is in getting actors to accept that something is a disaster. If the rich can flee the country they’re plundering and take their wealth with them, why should they stop? Maybe they know an ecological cataclysm is coming, but they discount the future such that it doesn’t weigh enough to stop them.

  12. Jeffrey Songster says:

    Solar has saved my family a bunch of money… and will continue to at no real additional costs. 25 year warr on panels, 25 yrs on micro inverters… 3 years already paid off due to 2 Nissan LEAFs using it as primary energy source. 250 per month for home… another 3-400 per month of gasoline no longer purchased. 8.1Kw of PV cost about 30k new and 11k back in taxes… So… very happy.

  13. Vexar says:

    So cover twice the state of New Jersey. Or, a 575 foot wide solar array over every mile of our entire US freeway system. Does our planet even have enough raw materials for this?

  14. Neil says:

    Interesting that Solar City made this video considering their main source of revenue right now is residential solar and not grid solar.

  15. Scott Franco says:

    I don’t like the idea at all of covering the deserts with solar panels. Look how much rooftop space is essentially wasted on nothing but tar paper or shingles. COnvert that aspalt wasteland to solar first. Nothing else is needed.

    1. European point of view says:

      Good point

  16. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    We had already guessed you were shorting Tesla’s stock (TSLA). That was pretty obvious from your serial Tesla bashing posts on InsideEVs, which show a pretty clear financial motive on your part. That you’re getting paid for writing Tesla bashing posts over on Seeking Alpha is even worse.

    What’s much more difficult to believe is your claim to own four electric cars, despite being a professional Tesla basher. Or even just one.

  17. Just_Chris says:

    The thing that makes rooftop solar really really cheap is that the customer puts up the capital for the power station and pays for the maintenance. Yes the government gives kick backs but this is nothing new to the power industry. The customer, in most countries, also continues to pay a distribution fee even though the are using less of the distribution network.

    It’s kind of like switching from taking the bus to work every day to owning your own car but with power you are told you need to keep buying the bus ticket or the roads will fail.

  18. Nelson says:

    I know of a better way of producing electricity 24×7 not dependent on sun, wind, waves, or geothermal. I am willing to share my idea only with Elon Musk because I feel he would put it to good use.

    NPNS! SBF!
    Volt#671

    1. Nelson says:

      Not using nuclear either.

      NPNS! SBF!
      Volt#671

    2. sven says:

      Does it involve converting the hot air from some commenters on InsideEVs (who will remain unnamed) into electricity? 😉

    3. Mr. M says:

      I dont think a coal plant is the future…

  19. Derek says:

    The problem is energy storage. The only technology available today that can realistically handle the intermittent nature of solar and wind is pumped-storage (hydro). We would need A LOT of it for this to work. I mean like draining one of the great lakes every day lot of it.

    1. Priusmaniac says:

      A great lake! Do some math and you will see that it doesn’t take that much to store in the day what you need in the night. It also doesn’t take a big hight difference neither. The energy is mgh where m is the mass in kg, g is 9.81 and h is the hight difference in meters.

      In more there is some interesting stuff in other storage as well like this ARES system:
      http://www.aresnorthamerica.com/
      They store potential energy by moving large concrete blocs on rail between a low location and a high location.

  20. ModernMarvelFan says:

    11,200,000 acres = 45324791931 sq meter

    Assumming only 150W power generation per sq meter of panel, it would generate
    6799 GW per hour

    If we assume 300 days and 6 hours per day, then that is a total power of 12,000,000 GWh.

    So, the 4,000,000GWh is only 1/3 of that.

    2.8 acre = 11331.2 sq meter.

    At 150W per sq meter, it generates 1700 kW per hour.

    1,000,000 kWh per year would require 589 hours per year of generation or 100 sunny days…

    that is pretty low estimate on the sunny states.

    So, it is totally doable. But the problem is that you have to have enough battery to make that 6 hours of generation last 24 hours.

    10960 GWh per day of consumption. If we have to keep it running for 3 days with little or no generation, then we would need at least 30,000,000,000 kWh of battery.

    Sounds like Elon is selling his Giga or Tera battery factory ideas..

    Even at $30/kWh, that is a cost of about 1 Trillion in battery alone.