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How much surface area would be required to power the planet with solar?

Avatar for Dave Llorens
Published on 12/03/2011 in
Updated 12/30/2014

(click the image to enlarge it, courtesy of

Solar Cynic Joe: 500k square kilometers? It might seem small on the world map, but that’s a whole ton of solar panels…

Science Geek Jane:: How cool!! That many panels would produce 94,000,000,000kWp, or 94 terawatts!

Solar Cynic Joe: BUT, that comes at a cost of $290.836 TRILLION (~5x global GDP). And that number renews every 25 years, because that’s the expected life of solar panels now.

Science Geek Jane: So it’s only about 10 Trillion a year? How much do we spend on energy a year now?

Nerdbot 2000: In 2006, Americans spent $1.158 trillion on energy (8.8% of GDP).
$10 trillion is about 16% of world GDP ($63 trillion). This project would represent the largest single piece of GDP every single year, overtaking health care.

Solar Cynic Joe: In the US, that’s $1.166 trillion a year that would need to come out of something else…

Science Geek Jane: …To power the our share of the entire world without fossils or nuclear? Hey that’s only two times the amount of our defense budget. Think about it.

Dave, Dan and Solar Fred: At the very least, get yourself a quote for solar on your home. We’re willing to bet the farm you won’t be looking at an estimate higher than 16% of GDP! You may be surprised at how good an investment solar panels are for your home.

Last modified: December 30, 2014

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