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Elon Musk reminds us how little land it would take to power the USA with solar

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Published on 07/19/2017 in
Updated 07/19/2017
Brian Sandoval and Elon Musk at NGA Summer 2017 meeting

July 19, 2017

Over the weekend the National Governors Association held its 2017 Summer meeting, and its new Chair, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, kicked off his “Ahead of the Curve” initiative with his buddy, good ol’ Elon Musk.

During the talk, Mr. Musk held forth about what makes him tick, why AI is an existential threat to human civilization, and oh yeah, just how small of an area we’d need to power the whole country with solar panels.

Elon Musk“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada/Texas/Utah. You only need about 100 miles by 100 miles to power the entire United States.

And the batteries you need to store that energy to make sure you have 24/7 power is 1 mile by 1 mile.”

He’s right! As we’ve been saying since 2011, it wouldn’t take much land at all to power the whole country with solar (Elon caught on in about 2015).

In fact, here’s how that 100 square miles looks on a map:

100 mile square in Nevada for solar panels

What he’s wrong about

The area cited by Mr. Musk covers all the electricity we currently use, but doesn’t take into account future needs (after all, we’re gonna need a lot of electricity for our new AI-driven robot overlords).

It also doesn’t take into account the fact that it would be near impossible to transmit that energy to all parts of the country, and, oh yeah, people live in those 100 square miles, too.

But Musk isn’t speaking literally here. He’s merely pointing out something true: we have enough elevated, shade-free surfaces in this country to completely power ourselves with solar power.

What he’s right about

Musk defines the coming transition to sustainable energy generation as a “physics problem” which can be solved by local generation and storage, saying “there will need to be a combination of utility-scale solar and rooftop solar, combined with wind, geothermal, and hydro… probably some nuclear for a while, in order to transition to a sustainable situation.”

He goes on to add “It’s going to be important to have rooftop solar in neighborhoods, because otherwise there will need to be massive new transmission lines built, and people do not like having transmission lines going through their neighborhood.”

We couldn’t agree more. If you’d like to part of the solution to this physics problem, connect with a local expert solar installer near you to find out how much you can save!

Watch Elon Musk’s NGA 2017 Appearance:

Last modified: July 19, 2017

5 thoughts on “Elon Musk reminds us how little land it would take to power the USA with solar

  1. Avatar for Mike Mike says:

    david hardingham is doing that thing like the vegans who won’t stop telling you that they are vegan and even wear that unwanted bit of info on their t-shirts. “you’re part of the problem” he says as he points his finger. What he forgets is the all the toxic waste that he creates. Got asphalt shinges? Got a gas burning vehicle? Got an electric vehichle filled with environmentally hazardous batteries? Got a house built with materials that required the burning of large amounts of fossil fuels to create? Good for you being able to afford solar but before you start pointing your finger of victory you need to look at what you consume in your over-sized house filled with luxury items and foods that were shipped from all over the world. David hardingham, do you take part in air travel? I bet you are not using that big income to stay home, farm vegetables, plant trees, and build yurts. Please do not lecture ppl about how you are part of “the solution” as you call it, it is hard to listen to that. Instead of telling us that you are now our role model, use some of that energy to help other’s get solar installed. Don’t turn ppl off of solar with that attitude. There is an episode of South Park that sums this up, it is called “Smug Alert” from Season 10 Episode 2. I highly recommend you watch it.

  2. Avatar for Chris Chris says:

    I love the Idea, would love to join just dont have the money to do so

  3. Avatar for david hardingham david hardingham says:

    today so far I now saved 10,541.52 LB of CO2 Emission Saved so if your not part of the solutiomn your part of the problem

  4. Avatar for Joyce Joyce says:

    What is happening with the solar shingles? I asked to be kept informed and I will be needing to replace my current shingles fairly soon. I will offer up my roof as a test house!

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