Elon Musk has teased a new way to power the United States entirely with solar power after a fan successfully bated him with a quote from Microsoft founder, Bill Gates.
The initial interaction started with a follower of Elon Musk posted a 2011 quote from Bill Gates who said that solar power was “cute”, but insisted that electricity sourced from nuclear power was a more viable and sustainable option to power the United States’ 327-million residents.
Tesla founder and CEO, Elon Musk responded, adding that Bill Gates was “def[inetly] wrong,” clearly stating that “Solar power is a Gigawatt per square km! All you need is a 100 by 100-mile patch in a deserted corner of Arizona, Texas or Utah (or anywhere) to more than power the entire USA. This analysis goes through the calculations,” he said.
According to reports, Musk has mused this particular idea several times publicly, in 2015 and again in 2017. His company, Tesla, has released several high-profile products including electric cars, photovoltaic cells that are designed from regular-looking roof tiles and prides itself on a high-tech, sustainable approach.
In 2017, Musk said that “the batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”
“[It’s] a little square on the U.S. map, and then there’s a little pixel inside there, and that’s the size of the battery park that you need to support it. Real tiny,” he said.
Tech commentators have added that “the plan itself is clearly a flawed idea - collecting and storing electricity in one small patch of land is just a storm away from knocking the entire country offline - but it illustrates a more realistic proposal that people can meet their electricity demands from zero-emissions sources,” writes Mike Brown.
The University College London has put Musk’s claims to the test, which Musk also provided a link to in his latest twitter thread regarding the solar farm. In its summary, the authors state that “yes, the area shown is reasonable, as a visualisation of the surface area of panels required to generate electricity equal to total US electricity consumption, on a multi-year average: that area of panels would generate about 500GW, which is above the current US annual average electricity consumption of 425GW, with enough to spare to account for resistance losses.”
The authors continue to explain, however, “do bear in mind that the claim wasn’t about whether demand could meet demand second-by-second, but whether the total amount over time could be met. The whole point of the presentation that the claim occurs in was to sell storage, which is there to bridge gaps between generation and demand.”