building a sustainable and resilient community

How much land do we need to power the world with the sun?

Posted on | September 8, 2009 | No Comments

This is a question that I think about a lot, but fortunately someone else has already done the calculations for me!  Behold this graphic from the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), which projects how much of the Earth’s surface we would need to power the ENTIRE world… on solar power alone!

The LAGI did this using some big math.  For those of you who might be scared off by numbers, I will simplify it as much as possible:  LAGI determined that the total energy usage of all the people on Earth in the year 2030 will be approximately 678 quadrillion Btus.

That’s 678,000,000,000,000,000 Btu.  (!!!)

Through a series of somewhat complicated equations (which you can view on the original post), they convert the Btus to kilowatt hours and determine how many kW-h would be produced in a single year on a square meter of land (400 kW-h).  This yielded a total of 496,804,500,000 square meters required for total energy production – which is 496,805 square kilometers, or 191,817 square miles.  They then divide up this total number into chunks and place them strategically onto each continent.  And when you look at it in this way, it not only seems possible to achieve solar power for the whole world in 2030, it seems practically easy.

The LAGI goes on to examine the same thought experiment with wind power to similarly manageable results.  Check that out, with other statistical comparisons, here.  As an extension, I’d like to see how much silicone – or other relevant materials – would need to be harvested from the Earth to produce all of those solar panels, and ultimately how many millions of pounds of greenhouse gases would be emitted in the process.   Hey – it’s a great idea!  So we may as well have all the facts in front of us, right?

So if anyone has any numbers on how much silicone we’d need to harvest to achieve solar power for all in 2030, please let me know, thanks  😀



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