Surface Area Required to Power the Whole World With Solar and Wind Power

surface area power world with solar power

Click for bigger version. Credit: Land Art Generator Initiative.

Putting Things in Perspective

The picture above has been making the rounds of the internet lately (sadly it hasn't always been attributed to the Land Art Generator Initiative). It's a bit similar to things we posted about in the past and represents the total surface area that would be required to power the whole world in 2030 using nothing but solar or wind power (see below for wind power pic). All the assumptions used to create the solar power pic above (you can click on it to see a bigger version) can be found here, but here are the main ones:

According to the US Department of Energy (Energy Information Administration), the world consumption of energy in all of its forms (barrels of petroleum, cubic meters of natural gas, watts of hydro power, etc.) is projected to reach 678 quadrillion Btu (or 7.15 exajoules) by 2030 - a 44% increase over 2008 levels (levels for 1980 were 283 quadrillion Btu and we stand at around 500 quadrillion Btu today). [...]

Dividing the global yearly demand by 400 kW•h per square meter (198,721,800,000,000 / 400) and we arrive at 496,804,500,000 square meters or 496,805 square kilometers (191,817 square miles) as the area required to power the world with solar panels. [...]

If divided into 5,000 super-site installations around the world (average of 25 per country), it would measure less than 10km a side for each. The UAE has plans to construct 1,500MW of capacity by 2020 which will require a space of 3 km per side. If the UAE constructed the other 7 km per side of that area, it would be able to power itself as a nation completely with solar energy. The USA would require a much larger area and approximately 1,000 of these super-sites.

According to the United Nations 170,000 square kilometers of forest is destroyed each year. If we constructed solar farms at the same rate, we would be finished in 3 years.

surface area power world with wind power

Click for bigger version. Credit: Land Art Generator Initiative.

They did the same thing with wind power (again, you can click on the pic above to see a bigger version):

A 5 MW turbine can be expected to produce 17 GWh per year (they are 40% effective from their peak rated capacity - 5 MW x 365 x 24 = 43.8 GWh). Therefore, it would require 11,748,294 of the 5 MW capacity turbines to create the same yearly output. There are 500 million cars in the world so it's not like that's an unattainable goal from a manufacturing standpoint. And each 5 MW turbine is a 30 year lifespan money making machine for whoever buys it. The same can not be said for my car. But if we can build 90,000 Cape Wind size installations, we would be there on wind alone. Based on that installation, each turbine requires 1/2 square mile of area for offshore sites. This would require 5.85 million square kilometers for 2030 world energy needs.

Of course, nobody's suggesting creating a kind of "clean energy monoculture". The green energy future will no doubt include many sources, including wind and solar, but also wave, geothermal, green hydro, etc. Maybe even space-based solar power and what I call "estuary power" (harnessing the mixing of fresh water with salt water). But still, this exercise is useful because it puts things in perspective and shows us that while the scale is huge, it isn't so much bigger than a lot of other man-made things.

Via Land Art Generator
More Solar and Wind Power
Japan's Moonshot? $21 Billion Invested in Space-Based Solar Power
First Solar to Build 250MW & 300MW Solar Farms in California, Enough to Power 170,000 Homes
Prometheus Institute Study: Solar Power to Reach Grid Parity in U.S. in 2015

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