Study suggests that covering the state of West Virginia with solar panels would provide solar power to the world

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on the results of a graduate thesis by Technical University of Braunschweig student Nadine May on the question of how many solar panels would it take to supply all the world’s energy needs. It turns out that 25,000 square miles of solar panels would generate enough electricity to power the planet, taking it totally off of fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and any other alternative. That is the area of the state of West Virginia.

Leaving aside the practical and moral problems of paving over West Virginia, a state ironically known for its coal reserves, the results of the study have some caveats attached to it. Giving the fact that a lot of power is lost in transmission lines, it is likely a better idea to decentralize solar power stations, making them as close as possible to the communities they serve. In the purist form, these consist of solar panels attached to the rooftops of homes and businesses.

On the other hand the efficiency of solar cells are getting better all the time, with at least one innovation involving stacking solar cells promising to make them competitive with natural gas. On the one hand this means the less land area would be needed to power the world solely with solar. On the other hand, the world’s energy needs are increasing all the time.

The point of the story is not that we’re going to go 100 percent solar any time soon. However it does suggest that solar, hitherto considered a niche energy technology, is rapidly becoming more mainstream as the technology improves and public acceptance becomes greater,

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