Solar Panels to Power the World

How many solar panels would it take to power the world?


The world current consumes 500 quadrillion Btu of energy from all available forms of energy. This number will increase to at least 678 quadrillion Btu over the next 20 years. Since we will not have this scale of energy available in fossil fuels forever, and renewables are the obvious replacement, it is interesting to begin to image what the surface of the earth will look like.

Using only solar panels, we need 191,817 square miles, or about the area of Spain, to power the whole world using only solar panels. That is a lot of solar panels, but take into consideration the highway system in the United States. It measures approximately 38,000 square miles. If this was converted into solar panels, the United States would produce enough electricity from solar panels to power itself. 38,000 squre miles or road has been laid over the past 35 years, so photovoltaic can easily be installed in a reasonable amount of time. If the world was to install enough solar panels to generate all its electricity in 2030, this is what the world might look like.

solar panels world

Another possibility is to power the entire world using off-shore winds. To generate enough electricity from wind, the world might look like this:

wind renewable electricity world

To power the world with wind would require 11.7 million 5 MW windmills. Compared to the 500 million cars in the world, this does not seem like a difficult feat.

In reality, electricity will be generated by a combination of wind, solar, hydropower, waves, tidal, geothermal, and biofuels. With current research and development, the price of renewable energy is falling fast. The need to begin installing renewable energy will become more evident as energy prices begin to climb after the end of the worldwide recession. This is where we will see the movement to renewable energy economies and increased profitability of countries set up to harnass natural energy.

Rich Hessler

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