After hearing President Bush beseech members of Congress for $68B more dollars for the war in Iraq tonight, I got myself to thinking. If we’re already spending $120B a year on this war and we simply decided to bring our troops home, how far could we get in meeting our nation’s energy demands solely with sunshine and that extra $68B dollars? Well according to an article in the Green Wombat last month, a solitary solar thermal plant sized at 92 x 92 miles could take care of our entire energy demand. That’s the size of land that purple square takes up in the above map. Granted, for security purposes it would be a dumb idea to go and build a lone solar plant like this, so let’s do some more realistic math. The land area cited in that article was 92*92mi = 8464sq. miles. Let’s say we intend to create 16 solar thermal power plants and scatter them about really sunny areas of our country such as the southwest, Texas, and areas of Florida. 8464/16 = 529sq. miles for each solar thermal power plant. It just so happens that the square root of 529 gives a clean 23! So we are in search of sixteen 23 by 23 mile plots of sunny land to power the entire country. We’ve got $68 Billion dollars to spend on all of them, or $4,250,000,000 for each one.
Since the Nevada Solar One project cost roughly $240,000,000, produces 64MW of power and amounts to 1 mile by ½ mile (pictured above – thanks to googlemaps) of concentrating thermal solar, let’s just say we use that extra war money to purchase as much solar energy as we can afford. Pictured below is the Nevada Solar Two plant (which I created in MsPaint.. Long live MsPaint!). As you can see, this hypothetical solar thermal plant is about 3 miles by 3 miles, is constructed of 18 Nevada Solar Ones, would produce 1,152MW and would cost at most $3.2B (200 million * 18). I say “at most” here because you’ve got all the equipment going to one place and there are bound to be efficiencies with economy of scale, etc. to bring the megaplant’s cost down a bit from the original $240M to $200M.
But we have enough cash from the proposed war spending to build about 20 of them ($68B/20 = $3.2B). So we’re at 9sq miles * 20 Nevada Solar Twos = 180sq miles of solar thermal energy and 23,040MW. That’s a bit of a far cry from the 8464sq miles needed to satiate the demands of the entire country. We’re just over 2 percent there. While this might sound like a marginal amount of energy, consider that 23,040MW of energy is equivalent to the amount produced by 19 nuclear power plants (1,200MW apiece!)! 23,040MW of energy could power 14,400,000 homes. That’s the number of households in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago – combined!
If you really want to shake things up, consider that since the Iraq war began, we are now roughly $9 Trillion dollars in debt. Many people, including myself, don’t have any concept of how much money that really is. Well, that’s $9,000,000,000,000 dollars. Remember those 16 plots of 23×23 miles we needed to satiate the nation’s thirst for energy? Well 9 Trillion dollars would be enough to purchase about 2,813 Nevada Solar Twos! That’s 9sq. miles * 2,813 = 25,317 sq. miles of solar thermal energy – more than triple the land area in solar power plants to satisfy the energy demands of our entire country!
It truly is depressing to imagine what the other 2/3rds of that $9 Trillion could have been used for. Universal health care? Education? Ugh!
- How Far Could $900B Go in Securing Our Energy Independence? Far. Very @#$%ing Far. [1/30/09]
- US Spending on the Iraq War Compared to Energy R+D [graph]
- The Land Mass of Solar Cells Required to Meet the Entire World’s Energy Demands
- Underdog Gaining Ground in Solar vs. Coal Showdown