Dana1981 asked in EnvironmentGlobal Warming · 1 decade ago

What do you think of this plan to solve the US energy problem with solar power?

Construct a 30,000 square mile array of solar panels in the Southwest along with concentrated solar power arrays and a massive direct-current power transmission backbone to distribute electricity throughout the country. Excess power produced by the photovoltaic arrays would be distributed and stored as compressed air in below-ground caverns.

With a massive investment in solar power plants and infrastructure, solar could provide 69% of US electricity and 35% of total energy (including transportation) by 2050.

If wind, biomass, and geothermal power sources were also developed, the US could produce 100% of its electricity and 90% of its transportation energy from renewable sources. To make this happen, the US would have to invest $10 billion per year for the next 40 years. For comparison, the US is now spending $12 billion per month for military involvement Iraq and Afghanistan


What do you think?


If you're just going to dismiss the suggestion off-hand with no good reason, don't bother to answer the question.

For those saying nuclear is the only solution, I suggest you read the best answer to this question: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=Avbtg...

Update 2:

The full plan is available here: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-...

Some other key points:

"the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant when factoring in land for coal mining."

"To meet the 2050 projection, 46,000 square miles of land would be needed for photovoltaic and concentrated solar power installations. That area is large, and yet it covers just 19 percent of the suitable Southwest land. Most of that land is barren; there is no competing use value. And the land will not be polluted. We have assumed that only 10 percent of the solar capacity in 2050 will come from distributed photovoltaic installations—those on rooftops or commercial lots throughout the country. But as prices drop, these applications could play a bigger role"

31 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    I think that it is a cool idea, and one that should not be dismissed off hand. We need more out of the box thinking like this, and not more of the same old "build a nuke plant" or "drill in ANWR". However, I don't like the entirely of your idea as it once again centralizes energy production. I'm not saying that this plan couldn't work, I'm saying that it shouldn't work.

    Now, to convert a smaller portion of the desert into a concentrating solar power harvester (which requires much less chemicals than the production of PV panels) would be an excellent way to provide power to the southwestern states. However, I think various systems of generation need to be implemented everywhere depending on what fits into the specific bio region.

    If I was forced to centralize power production, this would be an awesome idea, but I would rather see it become more, rather than less, decentralized than it is now.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I think eventually we'll get most of our electricity from solar power but I think solar thermal generation is more efficient at present. When we can use nano-technologies to cheaply produce better photovoltaics the situation will change and we may end up using them. A company called Ausra Inc has a new solar thermal plant in Nevada, they claim they will be producing at prices lower than coal-fired plants soon. Also, that an area half the size of Elko County, Nevada could produce all the electricity the US uses daily. That's a very large plant and it would be more efficient to build several plants in each state but it gives some sense of just how much power solar can provide.

    I think an investment of $10 billion a year would be a good start along with tax incentives so people could have their own solar thermal system installed to power their home. Germany has already done this with less efficient solar panels, with good success. As with the Scientific American article, power could be stored for use during peak and dark hours. I'm not sure compressed air is the most efficient means to do this but it is a low-cost approach.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I think this is a very interesting idea since the only thing that should be in the southwest anyways is deserts (not people with green lawns). This area gets a huge amount of solar energy which is a huge untapped resource that is available. When people realize that the initial investment would pay for itself in the long run most people may start changing their minds. Lets remind everyone that the cost of mining fuel for energy costs money along with upkeep of the plant while solar just takes upkeep. Also fossil fuels are variable and finite so they will only go up in comparison to a constant rate that solar would give since after building them there is no more investment.

    The comment about terrorists bombing that large of an area being easy. Bombing a 30,000 square mile area is easier than bombing a few power plants to cut of electricity? I don't think so and plus if we are becoming energy independent we would have no ties to the middle east.

    I do agree that efficiency of solar panels are low but we can't dismiss them since they will become better as technology improves.

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  • Lori
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    Where does the trillions of dollars needed to build these new solar thermal power plants come from? How do we get the power from north Africa to Europe, or from the US Southwest to the rest of North America, or the outback to coastal Australia etc... What do we do with the billion cars that are now useless since we don't have gas to run them, because all this new energy is electric? Why should anyone sacrifice now for some future utopia of free and abundant energy when their neighbor will just consume any resources saved by their sacrifice and prevent any progress in the end? Those are the sorts of questions that will lead you to the answer to your own question.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Well, it's a bad, bad idea to put it all in one place. If you had 50 600 square mile plants that would be more reasonable. Unless fusion power can come on line quickly, it's hard to see how we're going to get by with anything but solar. Coal, oil and uranium will all run out (i.e. become prohibitively expensive) as world demand for energy rises. Biomass would take an amount of cultivation about equal to all the food already produced in the world, but of course we'd still need the food. There is not enough available wind power, without cluttering the entire world with windmills.

    I don't really like the author's characterization of the southwest. He/she makes it sound like it's some vast wasteland that isn't doing anybody any good. Frankly, it's some of the most beautiful and interesting country in the US.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I'm not quite sure where they got their numbers, at $1.00 per watt installed and 50% land utilization at 280 watts per m^2, it works out to $10.8 trillion, not including land and infrastructure costs. Sometime Scientific American should pass on some copy and sent it over to Popular Mechanics. I've pondered cancelling my subscription.

    Supply is the problem, and 4th generation products have manufaturing limitations due to the semi rare metals used. Several gigawatts of production capacity will be available in the next few years but even at 20 gigs per year, that project would take about 500 years. I will be purchasing these products for my own use, but they will never be able to replace a significant portion of generation.

    If there were to be a "manhattan project" style program, I would certainly support it, so long as it was limited to research on Titanium Dioxide, Graphenes,or some other readily available material. The products of the research should be made available to domestic manufactuers at reduced royalties. Give the free market a good product they can produce inexpensively, the problem will be solved inside of 10 years. Continue with the archaic intellectual property rules for publically funded research, and nothing will happen.

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  • 1 decade ago

    IF - and it's a big IF - solar panels become so cheap that they can be used to construct a 30,000 square mile array, it would make FAR MORE SENSE to require that ALL NEW HOME CONSTRUCTION and ALL NEW BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION in the United States be required to install those cheap solar panels on their roofs.

    That way, 30,000 square miles of the American Southwest don't have to be destroyed in the name of "progress".

    Think about it: The infrastructure to all of those businesses and homes is already in place. The electricity can be transferred directly into the power grid if the panels are producing more than the home is consuming.

    This common-sense approach brought to you by a regular person.

    Have a nice day.

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  • Mikira
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    Thanks for pulling the last quote. I was trying to do it in my head but giving the 19% helps. This is one of the things I was trying to say, since I've flown over Nevada a few times and know its mostly desert. Its also one of the best places to build a solar array (Besides the Sahara desert.), since the land is pretty much unusable for anything else and its almost always sunny in the desert sates. I say put our tax dollars to work and get this thing built.

    The one thing I still can't figure out in how it would power a car when you live in an apartment complex. Unless they come up with some kind of powercell that recharges when driving. I know car batteries do that to a certain point, but they still need to be replaced.

    Edit: We have baby solar panels on almost every corner in the neighborhood I live in. There actually kinda cool. I wish I had a picture of them now that I could link to this question. There not much good this week though, since we are expected to get rain all week. And the clouds are thick enough that we are getting minor solar radiation.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    30,000 square miles is a lot of land, there may some obstacles to that. I don't think the idea is bad, plus the technology will only get better. As the technology gets better the panels will be more affordable to the average home owner. Right now logistics will be a problem, however there is no reason why we could not move in this direction. To me whether your a believer in AGW or not, why not use the energy of the sun.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Sure, the greenies will love 30,000 square miles being torn up to build a solar power array. They won't stand in the way of that....yeah right. They'll do the same thing they do to any other proposed powerplant, complain and protest because we are impacting the natural environment. Some endangered lizzard will be more important than providing Americans with affordable electricity. This will never happen.

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