Elon Musk: We can power America by covering small corner of Utah with solar

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Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has once again championed the incredible potential of renewable energy.

During an interview Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, the 44-year-old CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX said that the U.S. could meet its electricity needs just by covering a small corner of Utah or Nevada with solar panels.

Musk made a similar statement during his speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Dec. 2.

“Let’s say if the only thing we had was solar energy—if that was the only power source—if you just took a small section of Spain you could power all of Europe,” he said. “It’s a very small amount of area that’s actually needed to generate the electricity we need to power civilization. Or in the case of the U.S., like a little corner of Nevada or Utah would power the United States.”

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While Musk’s statement might sound a little too good to be true, as Tech Insider reporter Rebecca Harrington noted, we already have the technology to do it. More power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in an entire year, yet solar only provided 0.39 percent of the energy used in the U.S. last year.

This is why Musk thinks that solar will become the biggest energy source by 2031, as he told Tim Urban from Wait But Why. If solar is 20 percent efficient at turning solar energy into power, as it has been in lab tests, we’d only need to cover a land area about the size of Spain to power the entire Earth renewably in 2030.

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Indeed, photovoltaic technology is growing in leaps and bounds. In October, renowned solar installer SolarCity (where Musk sits as chairman) unveiled a solar panel that can achieve a peak efficiency of 22.04 percent, and that’s just for residential rooftops. On an industrial scale, the world’s most efficient solar cell has about double the efficiency of SolarCity’s new panels at 44.7 percent.

The Land Art Generator Initiative also crunched the numbers and determined that the surface area required to power the whole world with solar would fit into 191,817 square miles of solar panels, or roughly the area of Spain.

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