Solar and Wind Could Power the West Right Now, All of America in 2026

by John Farrell, in two posts that came from Energy Self-Reliant States

The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (or most of Los Angeles, CA).  If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs.

The following map shows what could have happened had the U.S. kept pace with Germany on solar power in the past two years (installed the same megawatts on a per capita basis).  Sunshine could power 10 states!

Solar Would Power the Mountain West if The U.S. Kept Pace with Germany

The spread of solar has also been in harmony with environmental goals.  Rather than covering natural areas or fertile land with solar panels, 80 percent of the solar installed in Germany was on rooftops and built to a local scale (100 kilowatts or smaller – the roof of a church or a Home Depot store).  Solar in the U.S. also can use existing space.  The following map shows the amount of a state’s electricity that could come from rooftop solar alone, from our 2009 report Energy Self-Reliant States:

State Potential Rooftop PV:

While the local rooftop solar potential of these states varies from 19 to 51 percent, there’s much more land available for solar without covering parks or crops.  Once again, data from Energy Self-Reliant States (p. 13):

On either side of 4 million miles of roads, the U.S. has approximately 60 million acres (90,000 square miles) of right of way. If 10 percent the right of way could be used, over 2 million MW of roadside solar PV could provide close to 100 percent of the electricity consumption in the country. In California, solar PV on a quarter of the 230,000 acres of right of way could supply 27% of state consumption.

Such local solar power also provides enormous economic benefits.  For every megawatt of solar installed, as many as 8 jobs are created.  But the economic multiplier is significantly higher for locally owned projects, made possible when solar is built at a local scale as the Germans have done.

With local ownership, making America a 100% solar nation could create nearly 10 million jobs, and add as much as $450 billion to the U.S. economy.

The Germans have found the profitable marriage between their energy and environmental policy.  It’s time for America to discover the same.

John Farrel, via CleanTechnica. This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

JR:  I would note that Germany isn’t even very sunny compared to most of the United States, as this figure from Meteotest via Grist makes clear:

Solar radiation map of the world

JR:  Now I’m not one to say solar can or even should have to power the country by itself.  We’ve got hydro, of course.  And I don’t have a problem keeping those nukes running for baseload.  And some natural gas to assist with demand response in keeping the lights on.  For completeness sake, I’m adding to Farrel’s solar post his wind post:

At least 32 states can get 25% or more of their electricity from wind power within their own borders.  This map is updated from our 2010 report and namesake, Energy Self-Reliant States.  Click here for a larger version.

The only updated figure is Maryland, due to a new report on its offshore wind potential.

John Farrell is an Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) senior researcher specializing in energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy.

20 Responses to Solar and Wind Could Power the West Right Now, All of America in 2026

  1. Leif says:

    The GOP will never allow the Nation to succeed economically on a Democratic watch and they will not adopt a Successful Green Economy and abandon their fossil handlers on their own. What a dysfunctional Government we have inherited.

  2. IANVS says:

    re: “JR: I would note that Germany isn’t even very sunny compared to most of the United States”

    Texas on the verge of limiting academic freedom of climate scientists

  3. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    It is a tallclaim. Let us hope even half of the targets will be fulfilled.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

  4. Greg Wellman says:

    Why is the solar potential in CA twice that in NM? NM is at least as sunny and averages a lower latitude. Is there just more rooftop per capita in CA?

  5. DRT says:

    Do you have an analogous map showing energy efficiency and wasted energy recovery potential?

  6. Michael Tucker says:

    We could power America with wind and solar. We should have done what Germany did. But at this time the entire Republican Party will not allow it because they oppose any policy that would create new jobs, they oppose any policy that would promote the green economy, and they oppose any government spending to promote jobs or the green economy. But if you want to increase government spending to expand the military the Gang Of Polluters might be willing to listen.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    For New York, the estimates of 50% wind plus 15% solar are really good looking.

    They would look even more attractive if New York could lower its energy demand to 65% of the consumption rates used for comparison. (What are they?)

    New York has electricity-intensive industries that accumulated here to be able to buy cheap energy at high loads from hydro and nuclear power plants, both of which rely on New York’s abundant water. If the baseline energy use for New York includes all those industries, it’s a bit of a mix for the kinds of electricity purchased.

    If New York eliminated all coal plants, do the remaining hydro and nuclear sources cover the other 35% of current energy demand in New York State? Could hydro&nuclear cover all of the state’s industrial high load demands?
    I could go look this up, but that would be a massive unpaid volunteer project.

    I’d like to hear what the report may have used for sectors of energy demand in calculating the percentages covered by wind and solar. The report didn’t seem to pick up on it.
    Figure 14 does show that New York and DC are the only other two states that have achieved California’s thrifty level of energy intensity.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Sorry, but I (and most people) want to lights to come on when the switch is flipped. There is an important difference between energy and power which the author seems unable to understand. A basic problem with both solar and wind is that with electricity it is use ti or lose it, right now. All storage schemes are either in short supply (if not too expensive) or else very expensive.

    I live in the Pacific Northwest and follow BPA’s travails with wind power. Regarding wind power, the natgas industry loves it; wherever wind power is in more than boutique amounts, natgas burners are sure to follow.

    Even solar PV has its problems since the daytime demand starts around 6 am (not much sun) and continues at about the same amount until around 10:30 pm (no sun). So solar PV can only contribute to a portion of that demand; it certainly cannot replace the utilities’ power grid.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    In addition, one might wish to read the three articles in Der Spiegel (online) which describe how Germany’s “green” energy plan is falling apart.

  10. Jeanne says:

    And check out An absolutely brilliant, thinking-outside-the-box idea.

  11. Russell says:

    I’m happy some countries are starting to use solar and other energy sources to get be less reliant on fossil fuels.

    My dad worked for the Solar Energy Research Institute from 1978-1981. Unfortunately the oil companies controlled the government and when Ronald Reagan became president their funding was drastically cut.

    He traveled to South America a few years ago and saw Ethanol cars. We lost 30 years of research in this country because of corporate greed.

    It is better late than never to begin to start research again.

  12. Jeremy Shere says:

    Germany’s success with solar and other renewables has come about thanks largely to strong government support in the form of feed-in tariffs and other incentives. Such steady, centralized government backing is lacking in the US, making it much more difficult for solar and wind to scale up as rapidly as those technologies have in Europe. Also, energy prices in Europe, especially for gasoline but generally across the board, have typically been higher than in the US, providing greater incentives for homeowners to invest in solar panels. When gas prices rise, people buy more Priuses and Chevy Volts. If and when electricity prices rise significantly in the US, people will put more pressure on the government to back alternative energy.

  13. Calamity Jean says:

    You said, “Sorry, but I (and most people) want to lights to come on when the switch is flipped.” That’s not the choice humanity needs to make. Most people want two feet, but if a person has bone cancer in an ankle, one foot is going to come off, or the person dies. Humanity MUST stop using fossil fuels, or risk extinction for ourselves and many other species.

    Wind and photovoltaic aren’t the only possible sources of renewable power. They clearly need to be the major ones, but to fill in temporary shortages there are other possibilities. There’s solar thermal power, which stores the sun’s energy in the form of heat. Some solar thermal systems can produce power for many hours after the sun goes down. For pre-sunrise demand, we could use biomass, like methane derived from sewage and garbage. There’s also anhydrous ammonia which can be synthesized from air, water and electricity. Ammonia could be made from wind or hydroelectric power when they are in excess supply, and burned to make power months later when there’s a shortage of wind or sun.

    “So solar PV can only contribute to a portion of that demand; it certainly cannot replace the utilities’ power grid.” Of course not; see above. Solar PV will supply the bulk of daytime demand, and the rest will be covered by other sources. The fact that solar PV can’t do it all is not the same as solar PV can’t do any of it. But we must switch our electrical supply to renewable energy or give up electricity, or global warming will kill us. Business as usual, on a long-term basis, is not an option.

    “In addition, one might wish to read the three articles in Der Spiegel (online) which describe how Germany’s “green” energy plan is falling apart.” Links?

  14. dbmetzger says:

    Powerland: Learning to Love the Wind
    To meet ambitious renewable energy goals, Amsterdam must convince residents to accept wind turbines.

  15. Eddie West says:

    Rooftops? What about parking lots? Who wouldn’t mind their car sitting in the shade, especially in the Southwest? David Benson (and most people) would rather idle the engine to run the AC. David, don’t forget to run a tube in through the window.

    Hey David, actually we COULD collect solar in WalMart lots at night because we could run them off the light from the metal halide lamps.

    Thank you very much; I’ll be here all week!

  16. publius2012 says:

    Question: can solar and wind power all of America even when one considers the amount of rare earth metals necessary to produce all of this technology? How much REMs would it take? Thank you.

  17. MorinMoss says:

    The solar industry isn’t heavily dependent on REEs, unlike wind turbines. It seems that America is finally realizing that allowing China to corner the market was a bad idea and the bountiful Mountain Pass mine in CA should be in (partial?) production sometime next year.
    While REEs aren’t in short supply, it is somewhat difficult to find in dense concentrations. But there are more than enough and alternative are being researched. A few new industrial catalysts have been developed that don’t need REEs

  18. Lawrence says:

    One very efficient method of creating good base-load energy is the Organic Rankine Cycle, which uses a closed system of refrigerant that, when heated, runs a turbine to generate electricity. It is far more efficient than using a water/steam method, and several companies are already in business selling such turbine systems. It was developed by Harry_Zvi_Tabor (known as the father of Israeli Solar) and Lucien Bronicki.

    Even Fox Business News iikes it! See interview with ElectraTherm CEO here:

    Infinity Turbine

  19. hmmmm says:

    Why would anyone want to sustain a way of life based on mindless consumption and preserve an economy based upon growth? (After all, as Ed Abbey put it, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell”)

    All of this “renewable energy” talk gets me down. It seems like people are missing the point. Using solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars seems awesome, but boiled down it is just an attempt to protect a very destructive way of living that got us into this mess in the first place.

    Plus, where are the materials and energy coming from that are producing all of these “sustainable” fixes? Surely not mines or coal plants…

    We are all in a serious, serious situation. We must look beyond surface solutions. Look deeper than where your energy comes from. Look at why we need energy to begin with.