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Solar power for the whole planet?

How much of the Earth’s surface would need to be covered by solar panels in order to get electricity from solar power for the whole planet? A remarkably small amount.

solar power for the whole planet

The large red box in the below image shows the total area that would need to be covered by solar panels in order to supply electricity to the whole world. It’s much smaller than I would have guessed. It’s little more than the size of the U.S. state of West Virginia. The medium size red box shows the total area that would be needed to supply electricity to Europe and the small red box shows the area that would be needed to supply electricity to Germany.

When I first saw this map and others that are going around I was skeptical so I tracked down the source: a diploma thesis by Nadine May of the Technical University of Braunschweig. The thesis was published in 2005 and is called “Eco-balance of a Solar Electricity Transmission from North Africa to Europe” and you can actually download the full thesis from here.

It’s clear to me that solar power must be the right direction for us and our planet.

the-total-area-of-solar-panelsOf course, you wouldn’t think it practical to put all of the solar panels for the whole planet in the same place. The map just gives us an indication of how little of the Earth’s surface would need to be covered by solar panels. If they were spread all over the world, maybe we’d hardly even notice them.

However, there is a group called Desertec Foundation that is working on doing exactly this – taking advantage of the sun rich desert areas to power the world. It uses low-loss, HVDC (high-voltage direct current) cables to transfer the electricity up to 3000 kms from the solar panels. It’s really quite amazing.

The UK replaces coal mines with solar panels

I was also amazed to see that the United Kingdom is building “solar parks” on three former collieries in Nottinghamshire. What a great idea! Former coal mines are like a scar on the Earth, so what a great place to put solar panels.

These solar parks will generate 30 megawatts of electricity that will power more then 10,000 homes. The solar panels are being installed by the company Anesco and you can read more about this project on their site here.

Setting new records in the UK

On June 21st, 2014, solar power supplied almost 4% of the UK’s electricity requirements over a 24-hour period. Even though it’s only 4% that’s still a lot and it’s a surprise to me.

Can we have solar power for the whole planet?

After reading some of this research and seeing a little of what’s going on, it seems like we can easily have solar power for the whole planet. With continued advances in solar technology, we should be able to harness the biggest source of energy available to us and supply all of our needs.

That reminds me – it’s always a good idea to limit our needs. Using and consuming less is the best first step in limiting global warming (see use10percentless).

Something to add? Do you see something wrong with this? Please share.

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