How much space will be needed to meet the clean energy needs of the world?

photo credit: Nadine May
photo credit: Nadine May

The image above has three red boxes showing what area would need to be covered for Germany , Europe , and the entire world.

Here is a really shocking statistic that will not only haunt you but also bring the issue of energy needs into the correct perspective which has so far eluded most. 

In the year 2009 total electricity consumed on our planet was 20,279,640 GWh. Now in just one hour the sun’s rays falling on the surface of the earth creates much more energy than that. In other words just one hour of sunshine on a typical sunny day would have been more than enough to meet the entire energy needs of the globe in 2009.

Just think about that for a minute. As the world grapples with crippling energy shortages that are on the rise, high oil prices and energy generation that is harmful to the environment, a free and widely available source of energy that in sharp contrast is not harmful to the environment shines on our very faces most days of the year. If that isn’t mind boggling I don’t know what is.

Amazingly the world has continued to be super slow in waking up to the potential of the sun as a source of energy to power the entire world and so the initial challenge in any such initiative would have to be in sourcing the required solar panels needed to convert enough power from the sun to meet the energy demands of the entire globe and then finding adequate space for them to be set up to generate the needed electricity. This is all very viable because there is plenty of space on the globe which can be put to good use for this noble purpose.

Besides the space required is not as much as most people would want to imagine at first. Indeed it is surprisingly small more so when you also consider the benefits that will accrue.

Let’s look at a few examples. Estimates reveal that there is about 1.2 million square kilometers of farmland in China. That would be too much to
power the globe and would exceed world energy requirements in the year 2030 by 2.5 times.

There is plenty of sun in the Sahara Desert and the whole desert measures 9,064,958 square kilometers. Actually sections of the huge Sahara Desert that are completely uninhabited works out to over 9 million square kilometers. If this area were to be completely covered by solar panels it would produce 46 times the energy the entire planet requires.

We can look at the whole thing from another angle or perspective. There are plenty of destructive habits of the human race that are computed every year. How about turning some of this destructive behavior into good? For instance if we were to make an effort to constructed solar farms instead and at the same speed we are destroying forests we will have completed the task of ensuring the planet never lacks energy again being powered solely by solar in just 3 short years. The United Nations estimate of forests being destroyed every year stands at 170,000 square kilometers.

What if we started think golf courses. It is said that there are about 40,000 of them worldwide and great care is taken to keep most of them in great shape. If the same care and all those golf courses were turned into solar farms filled with panels we would be about 10 per cent of the way to fulfilling global energy requirements.
There are a few other sources of renewable and clean energy other than solar that would go a long way in reducing the area required for solar panels to power the globe. Wave energy and wind energy are two examples that quickly come to mind. Take wind for example. 2030 energy needs for the planet would be met by just 90,000 cape wind size turbines.
It would be worthwhile to pursue other sources of renewable energy because they are capable of reducing the space required to power the world with solar panels by between 5 per cent and 25 per cent. This is substantial and it all depends on the amount of wind power or wave power that we are able to generate.
It is absolutely important that by the close of this century at the very latest, we shift from current non-renewable harmful sources of energy to solar and other similar clean renewable energy. The harsh reality is that we really do not have an option here since the consequences of NOT taking action here are unthinkable.

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