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The Green Life: Fueling the World With Solar

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September 02, 2009

Fueling the World With Solar

Solar panels Ever wonder how much surface area it would take to fuel the world with solar power? A group based in the United Arab Emirates called the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) did, and they've come up with the answer: about 500,000 square kilometers (310,000 sq. mi.), an area about the size of Spain.

You can read about that formula they used to arrive at this figure on the LAGI website, where there's also a map showing the rough distribution of solar farms worldwide, taking weather patterns and land use into account, that would be required to meet humanity's energy needs in 2030.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, world consumption of energy in its forms is projected to reach 678 quadrillion Btu (British thermal units) by 2030a 44 percent increase over today's levels.

LAGI calculates this target could be met if 5,000 "super-site installations" measuring 10 kilometers to a side were constructed globally, spread around at an average of 25 installations per country. The U.S., by far the world's largest energy consumer, would require 1,000 such sites to meet all its energy needs. Installations in the Sahara Desert alone could power all of Europe and North Africa.

According to the U.N., 170,000 square kilometers (105,000 sq. mi.) of forest is destroyed each year. If solar farms were constructed at the same rate, it would take only three years to build enough capacity to power the world with zero carbon emissions.

Impractical? Probably. But it's food for thought to see how relatively little of the earth's surface would have to be devoted to solar farms to meet projected energy demands.

--Tom Valtin

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