Alternative energy is the rise in America. People are seeing the benefits of turning to solar and wind energy from conventional sources. Costs are also decreasing to historic lows. More can be done, which is why I propose the US government build a vast solar energy network to set the example that it committed to the future and a greener planet.

      For starters, let’s get into the math. At the basic level, a 1000KW, 66,840 sq ft panel is going to cost $1,131,200. Many of the numbers I’ll be using in this proposal are in square miles, leaving us at a price of around $471,410,400 per sq mi. This is just one man’s research without calling and getting detailed information regarding pricing, so likely lower. Also, since it’s a government project, and that price likely has taxes at various levels tacked on, simply recouping tax revenue or getting taxes removed from price will bring it down. For simplicity sake though, I’m going to leave price alone. While the number certainly looks scary, it should be noted last year’s record market cap was 14,626 megawatts, meaning the government would be venturing into new territory with this proposal. Though capacity did increase in 2016, adding an additional 9.5GW of capacity, the nation’s fastest growing energy source according to the US Energy Information Administration. I feel that with dedicated aid from the US government solar will really take off and dominate the energy sector. It addresses a sort of market failure as not enough solar is getting produced as is probably capable, especially with the price as low as it is.

      The next question to be answered is where are we going to put these? It turns out there is a lot of barren land out in the west that is sitting around doing nothing in the form of deserts. A rough calculation has the area of deserts in the US to be around 569,680 sq mi, or since our panels are sized to sq ft, 1.588177e+13 sq ft. That obviously is on the high end due to the Western US being known for the many beautiful sights, requiring actual square footage of panels to be brought down. Deserts are traditionally very sunny, and for the most part, flat. The only issue I can see arising out of relying so heavily on deserts is transportation costs to move energy to where it is most needed to power federal government buildings and districts.

      So let’s talk money. We know how much area there is out west to cover in panels and how much it costs per panel, meaning for the low-low price of roughly $268,783,037,200,000, or $268.7 trillion the US government could cover most western deserts in solar panels and make them useful for once. Now a lot of people, probably most, see a number anywhere close to the trillions and start to freak out a little bit. Personally I don’t blame them, it’s a lot of money. What if we picked a smaller area to cover in panels, say the famous Death Valley. It comprises about 3,000 sq mi, and at $471,410,400 per sq mi it would cost $1,415,131,200,000 or $1.4 trillion to cover the magnificent Death Valley in panels. I personally think it’s a good idea, for it ensures plenty of space to gather energy and increase our energy independence as a nation.

      Maybe those numbers are too high for you; what if we look for alternative funding sources. The first that comes to mind is President Trump’s budget proposal for 2018. In it he wishes to allocate an additional $54 billion to the Department of Defense and additional $2.8 billion to the Department of Homeland Security. After running those dollar amounts through, the increase to Defense spending alone could buy enough solar panels to cover 117.8 sq mi. Trump’s increases to DHS spending, mostly for the wall, would cover a measly 5.9 sq mi of panels. To keep this non-partisan I won’t go into any detail regarding where the money would come from, but my 117 sq mi of solar on the low end is a lot.

      My plan is not without faults though. The first is sheer cost of implementation. I am not kidding when I throw around numbers in the trillions, and while I have said it is likely to come down due to details not known to me, it doesn’t take away the fact that the dollar figures are still quite high. From there we get issues of where is the money going to come from, questions being asked of the President’s current proposal. Another concern is I’m creating what is essentially a state-owned enterprise. In the past the US government has temporarily taken over various industries, but never built one from ground up. This aspect of it is likely to draw some ire from both sides of the political aisle and will probably prevent it from getting through Congress. One final potential issue with my proposal is transporting the energy. As I’ve linked to earlier, industry is getting better at moving electricity, so it easily could be a non-issue. I am reliant on people much smarter than me to get into the science of it all and maximize energy transportation potential.

      That’s that. I feel very strongly about the future of federal solar energy, especially with the amount of unused land that is either federally owned, or could easily become federally owned. Whether we like it or not, the future is here, and it’s up to us to take hold of it and not let go.

-The Jiffy Riddler

Solar it up Baby!