Tags: solar farms energy crisis
I had a chance to visit T. Boone Pickens website, where he has unveiled a plan to develop contingency energy policies involving a blend of natural gas, wind and solar as a sort of 'stop-gap' measure to halt the increasing importation of foreign oil.
Whereas I think he is onto something, his plan may actually not be big enough to really make a difference. I quickly did some simple calculations on the energy generating capacity of solar cell technology (per total surface area) given its placement in any environment sufficiently 'sunny' enough to power the solar cells for a minimum of five hours per day.
Based upon published data it is possible power the entire electrical grid of the United States at almost twice its current level by simply creating a 'National Solar Farm' approximately 100 miles by 100 miles (10,000 square miles) in size.
The total land space required is symbolized by the blue rectangle on the above map. Placing this solar farm anywhere in the light blue area guarantees a minimum of 5 hours of sunlight in winter, 6 in summer --very ample amounts.
Fortuitously, the majority of this area is some of the most hostile territory to be found in the continental US, so there would not be any significant displacement of people or fauna.
Solar panels are not inexpensive, and one would think that a 100 by 100 mile wide area would be prohibitively expensive. But the raw materials of solar panels (silicon and cadmium) are themselves quite inexpensive and abundant and a government effort on par with the Manhattan Project should be able to use economies of scale to drop the production costs.
This would have added ecological advantages. A lot of electricity is generated locally, which brings many known carcinogens into densely populated areas.
Opponents might be argue that by generating electricity from a singular, highly centralized location a lot of the juice would be lost due to overall 'low conductivity' of the majority of the national electrical grid. However, this might also be an opportunity to develop the next level of superconducting devices alongside of a National Solar Farm and reform the National Electrical Grid while we're fixing things anyway.