Elon’s big picture—How to power the United States with solar energy

Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, addressed an audience on how much land is needed to make sure the United States runs entirely on solar energy.


The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, spoke to more than thirty state governors at the 2017 National Governors Association meeting on how much real-estate is required to ensure the United States runs entirely on solar energy.

Inverse reports that Musk laid out his vision for renewable energy that relies on capturing power from the sun via solar panels to fill the enormous demand for energy in the areas of transportation, electricity, and heating.

He also noted that only about ten percent of the energy in the USA is renewable.

“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States,” Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island.

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“The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”

It’s “a little square on the U.S. map, and then there’s a little pixel inside there and that’s the size of the battery park that you need to support that. Real tiny.”

“The Earth is almost entirely solar-powered today, in the sense that the sun is the only thing that keeps us from being at the temperature of cosmic background radiation, which is 3 degrees above absolute-zero,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for the sun, we’d be a frozen, dark ice ball. The amount of energy that reaches us from the sun is tremendous. It’s the 99 percent-plus of all energy that Earth has.”

After all the sun’s a mind-bogglingly big energy ball, anyway: “People talk about fusion and all that, but the sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky. It’s really reliable. It comes up every day. If it doesn’t we’ve got bigger problems.”

“There’s an unpriced externality in the cost of fossil fuels,” Musk said.

“The unpriced externality is the probability-weighted harm of changing the chemical constituency of the atmosphere and oceans. Since it is not captured in the price of gasoline, it does not drive the right behavior. It’d be like if tossing out the garbage was just free and there was no penalty and you could do as much as you want. The streets would be full of garbage. We’ve regulated a lot of other things like sulfur emissions and nitrous oxide emissions, it’s done a lot of good on that front.”

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  1. The land required is really less than Musk says, as there is no reason that panels and battery all have to be on a chunk of land, when there are building roofs, car ports, porch roofs, etc that can provide much of what states is required.

    The ash storage areas for each of the coal fired power plants that I have worked on are 1/2 mile square territory around here. Wasted land. When one of the local Pa coal plants were torn down, the bare ground left is over a mile square.

    Google abandoned mines or abandoned industrial sites both state and Federal to find lands abandoned to the states and the Feds radically far more in excess of what is needed in area to place the panels on otherwise worthless or unusable land.

    1. @Darus Zehrback: I agree with you. I believe the US doesn’t have to block out a specific real-estate to house solar panels that could accomplish this task. There is also a new trend of installing solar panels on “Brown Fields” which are abandoned infertile land like you rightfully mentioned. Switching the US entirely to solar doesn’t need a rocket scientist to figure it out.

  2. You Know I agree with this completely. But why not go one step further by just making it mandatory for all new development of houses and buildings to have solar systems put on them and just inter-great the price right into the cost of the house.
    Plus also as the developer is purchasing these systems and installing them onto the house and buildings the cost of buying the panels will start going down as you would be buying in bulk.

  3. elon musk is implementing a research we did 2007, on microgrid.
    monolithic solar farms are good for large power consumer. however using roof-tops of residential and commercial buidling is one solution to solar foot print requirements
    case and point:
    tesla residential solar system with powerwall battery storage, along with a teala EV car under
    can eliminate 40 percent of the energy requiremnt plus elimite the requirements for solar footprint.

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