Elon Musk's Plan to Power the US on Solar Energy

Megalith

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If you’ll recall, the Tesla CEO spoke to numerous governors this weekend, and aside from some of his personal insight concerning AI, Musk also elaborated on how America could run totally on solar energy. He claims that you would only need 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States: his vision entails combining rooftop panels with utility-sized solar plants and relying on other power sources during the transition.

“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States,” Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island. “The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”
 
D

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He's also failing to note the following:

Focused sun rays heating a fluid medium to steam turbines is vastly more efficient and lower maintenance without the need for rare earth elements. (For which there aren't enough for 100 square miles of panels)

Boiling the entire power grid to the sunniest part of American sounds great until a freak storm , or a enemy nation state, or terrorist hits it.

Nice snake oil pitch though.
 

Gigus Fire

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Hmm, would that even work? I mean, he's also ignoring the massive amount of infrastructure that would have to be built to transmit the electricity to where it's needed. Then if some clouds happen to roll by that would cause massive brownouts as well.
There's something to be said about not putting all your eggs in one basket.
 

Gigus Fire

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He's also failing to note the following:

Focused sun rays heating a fluid medium to steam turbines is vastly more efficient and lower maintenance without the need for rare earth elements. (For which there aren't enough for 100 square miles of panels)

Boiling the entire power grid to the sunniest part of American sounds great until a freak storm , or a enemy nation state, or terrorist hits it.

Nice snake oil pitch though.
You're talking about molten salt solar generators? It should also do away with the battery requirements.
 

MirageMobile

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Molten Thorium Floride salt nuclear reactors is something I've been studying. Thorium is more plentiful and the decay products are more benign. They won't run away as easily or at all as is claimed. Sorry for off topic.

Do you have an understanding of the R&D required to extend from today's LWR to what you've suggested? Sure, those concepts are "end-game" fission solutions if we never harness fusion. However, there are multiple designs that will be utilized before anything that's liquid fuel + molten salt coolant.
 

MirageMobile

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We need a few fast reactors to recycled all the accumulated waste for starters.

Are you aware of designs that utilize subcritical piles ( lower risk that critical piles) and linear accelerators to burn the transuranics from the spent fuel? The duration for which the spent fuel is radioactively harmful to humans reduces from 10,000+ years to 300-400 years.

Also, calculations have been performed on the subcritical pile + linear accelerator combo. The time to burn all transuranic waste ever generated in the US would be appropriately 15-20 years. Therefore, the reason it has not been performed yet is there is not YET enough risk from having the spent fuel (risk is not yet high enough, decided by ..... ?) to offset the research and construction costs. However, if society deemed it a priority, technical solutions exist to burn the spent fuel and drasticly shorten the time before the spent fuel activity reaches background levels.
 

PaulP

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OK, so you have enough solar panels to provide all the US daytime power requirements (ignoring the very real distribution and frequency maintenance issues), and batteries to provide night-time power (assuming you have a location where it's never cloudy during the day). So, how do you charge the batteries after draining them at night? I guess you would need 2X the national demand in solar panels. Has that been factored in? Solar panels are not dispatchable, they produce power whenever light hits them and can't be turned of or throttled, so how do you balance supply and demand in order to maintain the required 120vac levels everywhere? I guess you could just run the grid off the batteries all the time and just use the solar panels to charge them, but this risks overcharging them at low demand levels, not to mention wearing them out quickly. In fact, before you could even finish such a massive power generation system, you would have to be replacing solar panels and batteries. No, a centralized power system such as this would not be practical. In fact, the more distributed the system is, the better, in terms of robustness. But dispatchability and frequency control are still the overriding factors in any AC power system.
 

azuza001

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I can't speak for this level of solar reliance for power but out here in the country where I live there are quite a few farms and homes that have switched to solar panels and it seems to work for them. But powering a single Farm is a lot different than trying to power an entire city.
 

mrp

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He's also failing to note the following:

Focused sun rays heating a fluid medium to steam turbines is vastly more efficient and lower maintenance without the need for rare earth elements. (For which there aren't enough for 100 square miles of panels)

Boiling the entire power grid to the sunniest part of American sounds great until a freak storm , or a enemy nation state, or terrorist hits it.

Nice snake oil pitch though.
Yep, nothing like "putting all your eggs in one basket", If we opt for this spread them out from the East Coast to the West Coast.
 

dgacioch

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Well as Chariman of Solarcity I expect nothing less from the guy, even if it is all snake oil. Of course he would love to be the one to sell you that 100 miles of panels, paid for most likely by you the taxpayer. My guess is Trump pulling out of the Paris accords has him worried here in the states. Solar simply isnt viable without subsidies and tax breaks. His fear is those get cut off which effectively puts him out of business. Musk is a big dreamer and a great PR guy. For all the positive press on the guy though, very little gets said on how profitable any of his business ventures actually are.
 

Armenius

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I can't speak for this level of solar reliance for power but out here in the country where I live there are quite a few farms and homes that have switched to solar panels and it seems to work for them. But powering a single Farm is a lot different than trying to power an entire city.
Or a country, for that matter. A country with the third largest land area in the world with a highly dispersed population living across it. Powered by a single, centralized power plant? I don't think that is very practical.
 

Verge

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Why can't you rent roof space to power companies? We've already wrecked enough of this country, no need to build anymore massive solar farms.
 

Armenius

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Why can't you rent roof space to power companies? We've already wrecked enough of this country, no need to build anymore massive solar farms.
Are there not already areas where you can sell electricity back to the power companies?
 

Lifelite

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It would be a lot less efficient than lets say a desert area at our southern border (closer to the equator).
Every portion of the US has it's own desert. Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona for south west, north west has Loads of plains in the flyover states, south east has Lots of open plains to choose from....and Northeast, you could just pave over New Jersey, no prob.
 

Paladin21

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Here's an article from last year: http://fortune.com/2016/05/06/elon-musk-tesla-lithium/

In it, Musk says they need basically the entire global output of lithium to meet their goals to produce cars. Since then, they've been talking about other issues and ignoring this because they don't want to spook investors. However, there is physically not enough Lithium production to cover his goals in any sort of reasonable timeframe. Now he thinks he can also make batteries sufficient to uphold the power grid of the entire country too?

Musk has done some great things, but this is just a crazy pipe-dream. There is zero ability for anyone to scale up like this due to physical realities of available resources.
 
Joined
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He's also failing to note the following:

Focused sun rays heating a fluid medium to steam turbines is vastly more efficient and lower maintenance without the need for rare earth elements. (For which there aren't enough for 100 square miles of panels)

Boiling the entire power grid to the sunniest part of American sounds great until a freak storm , or a enemy nation state, or terrorist hits it.

Nice snake oil pitch though.


Yeah the focused ones aren't that great it sent birds crashing to the ground due to burning feathers, along with blinded pilots from nearby airports in LV and LA

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/b...-birds-on-fire-as-they-fly-overhead-1.2739512
 

mrp

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If you’ll recall, the Tesla CEO spoke to numerous governors this weekend, and aside from some of his personal insight concerning AI, Musk also elaborated on how America could run totally on solar energy. He claims that you would only need 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States: his vision entails combining rooftop panels with utility-sized solar plants and relying on other power sources during the transition.

“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States,” Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island. “The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”
He might want to get off the battery kick, there are other options (pumped storage-hydroelectricity, fly wheel energy storage, etc) as space is plentiful and efficiency doesn't appear to be an issue (solar is pretty low to begin with). But wait they are in the battery business.
 

Dan_D

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I'd love for Elon to be right as Solar energy will never be depleted within our civilization's stay on this planet. That said, I don't see it as realistic with current solar technology. I'm not sure it will be a realistic goal within my lifetime.
 

nutzo

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Are there not already areas where you can sell electricity back to the power companies?

As long as you don't mind paying even more for electricity.

In Southern California, there has been several days this year when too much power was being produced by solar panels. (heavy sunlight, but mild temperature).
They had to dump the excess power out of state at a loss, and in at least 2 cases, they supposable had to pay an out of state power company to take the power.

An this is with the small number of homes with of solar panels. Double that number and the grid will collapse.
 

Gigus Fire

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As long as you don't mind paying even more for electricity.

In Southern California, there has been several days this year when too much power was being produced by solar panels. (heavy sunlight, but mild temperature).
They had to dump the excess power out of state at a loss, and in at least 2 cases, they supposable had to pay an out of state power company to take the power.

An this is with the small number of homes with of solar panels. Double that number and the grid will collapse.
That's because the power companies are stupid and didn't invest in any sort of capacity capturing.
If they did, then they could lower the costs of peak usage or night usage.
 
D

Deleted whining member 223597

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That's because the power companies are stupid and didn't invest in any sort of capacity capturing.
If they did, then they could lower the costs of peak usage or night usage.

So go out there and figure out a cost effective solution to energy storage.
 

nysmo

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So, how do you charge the batteries after draining them at night? I guess you would need 2X the national demand in solar panels. Has that been factored in? Solar panels are not dispatchable, they produce power whenever light hits them and can't be turned of or throttled,
Omgosh, you should definitely tweet this to him, I'm sure he and his team havent considered any of this. What are they thinking?!
 

STR

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Boiling the entire power grid to the sunniest part of American sounds great until a freak storm , or a enemy nation state, or terrorist hits it.

If a terrorist has a weapon big enough to wipe out a large portion of a multi-square mile solar farm, we have a bigger issue on our hands than a few brownouts.

Meanwhile, realists are wanting to power the US with a far better, cheaper, cleaner, smaller footprint, and more efficient means: nuclear breeder reactors.

Too bad our tax money is being pumped into subsidies for the joke that is solar and wind.

Nuclear is a lot of things. Most of them are good things, or at least manageable things. Cheap, however, it is not and never has been. Reactors cost billions of dollars and usually go critical years later than scheduled. That's the kind of combo that makes it impossible to capitalize them without far more public money and risk than renewables currently use.

Nuclear fusion or GTFO.

There's a saying: Fusion is the power source of tomorrow. And it always will be.

Implication being that "tomorrow" will never become "today".

It would be a lot less efficient than lets say a desert area at our southern border (closer to the equator).

Also, deserts tend to have fewer clouds, little rain, and even less snow. Good luck getting solar power in Chicago in January. Though, weather in Chicago is getting more like the weather in Nashville just as the weather in Nashville is getting more like the weather in New Orleans.
 
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M76

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He's also failing to note the following:

Focused sun rays heating a fluid medium to steam turbines is vastly more efficient and lower maintenance without the need for rare earth elements. (For which there aren't enough for 100 square miles of panels)

Boiling the entire power grid to the sunniest part of American sounds great until a freak storm , or a enemy nation state, or terrorist hits it.

Nice snake oil pitch though.
Actually transmitting energy is a very wasteful process. It's completely pointless to generate all the power in one place. But he never said we should put up a 100x100 mile solar farm in Nevada to power the US, it was just an example to give the people a frame of reference of how much power solar can generate.
He assumed the people have half a brain and wouldn't actually think he's proposing a single 100 sq mile solar farm, guess he was wrong.

The most efficient way to generate power is to do it where the demand is. But you can't do that with nuclera or coal. Nobody wants that in their backyard. But noone cares about a few miles of solar farms. And you Immediately eliminated the greatest source of waste energy: long distance energy transport. Not to mention if every city or smaller county has it's own source and batteries (or other form of energy storage) then that's bye bye countrywide blackouts and bye bye single point attacks from terrorists.
 
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