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Elon Musk's Plan for One Giant Solar Farm Is a Little Insane, but Not Completely Insane

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

Elon Musk has revived his idea to power the entire U.S. with one single, giant solar farm. In a recent tweet evidently directed at fellow mega-billionaire Bill Gates, Musk insinuated that his grand solar plan is actually quite simple.

Musk guesstimates the farm would be 100 miles by 100 miles. His idea isn’t feasible on its own, and is largely considered a gestural idea toward the possibility for new solutions with existing technology.

The United Nations believes the technology to address climate change already exists and that the policies and behaviors required will be cultural and financial. Countries must spend the money to enact solutions and build out robust, full-service mechanisms using pieces of existing technology.

Musk’s idea for a single giant solar grid to support the entire U.S. is what TV food personality Alton Brown would call a unitasker: something limited to one specific use case, and therefore a waste of money. As Inverse points out, a big enough storm or even severely overcast day would knock out the electrical grid, unless Musk plans to include cutting-edge solar storage as part of his national solar farm.

The fan whose reply prompted Musk’s renewal of his solar idea mentioned Gates’s widely shared soundbyte that solar is “cute,” but nuclear is the real way forward. (His actions since have indicated a change of heart.) But nuclear’s public favorability keeps falling, from the “nuclear golden age” in the 1950s to repeated international nuclear disasters to Germany’s love affair and very public breakup with nuclear energy. Where nuclear energy studies have largely stagnated, solar and wind have made giant steps forward, partly by building off of the cooling technologies pioneered by nuclear plants.



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