How much does it cost to solve all human energy problems? About 432 Apollo programmes

Having read David MacKay’s awesome book named “Sustainable energy – without the hot air” (available on his website as a pdf for free) and being a fan of quick math I decided to calculate how much would cost us, the human race, to build a project that would provide humanity with near zero cost renewable energy.

According to MacKay, the total power consumption of the entire human race at this moment is 15 TW.  Of those, 2 TW is humanity’s electricity consumption and everything else is consumed in other forms of energy (gas, heat, etc).

As a basis of calculation I looked at the cost of solar plants (with full infrastructure, etc) built right now around the world in similar conditions. Solar plants in Mojave desert wikipedia article is an excellent starting point. According to available data for several solar plants being built there, I averaged out these important numbers:

  • Cost to build solar plants is around $4.9 million USD per MW 
  • With current technology, we can count on 25 W per m2 of solar panel power output

That means that in order to satisfy entire humanty’s need for power at this moment we would need solar plant that covers the area of 600,000 km2, which would produce the needed 15 TW of power, at the cost of $73.5 trillion USD.

Now where could we find 600,000 km2 of land that is not used?

This patch of Sahara desert provides entire human race with energy

Here is it again at world scale


Let me comment on this quickly.

I am astonished at how little (in terms of size, space, inconvenience – any way you like it) does it need to permanently solve our energy needs. And there is still plenty of desert left for future needs. No more oil dependency, environment pollution, greenhouse gases, no more BS talk. Everything solved by a patch of land that nobody uses anyway. And it is located at the perfect location where Sun’s power is the strongest. As if Mother Nature has given us this saying ‘Hey fools, stop torturing me, look! It’s that easy.’.

Now $73.5 trillion USD is no small amount of money. To put into perspective it cost $170 billion to put man on the Moon so we are looking at pulling off 432 Apollo programmes. USA’s entire GDP today is around $15 trillion, and the entire world produces $70 trillion USD a year.

But I could imagine a gigantic project where the humanity would unite to solve this problem once for all. We don’t need to pull this off all at once, but we could start, adding pieces over time.

I would imagine the plant could initially sell energy at $0.02 per kWh (which is at least 5 times cheaper than what we pay for electricity right now) and at that pace it would pay itself off in 29 years. After that, the price could drop to $0.001 per kWh (which is at least 100 times cheaper than what we pay now) just to cover maintenance costs (well, it would still be making $360 million USD per DAY). I could see everything flourish – economy, jobs, environment.

It is important that we start.  We need to start saying YES to ideas like this.

Desertec foundation is one organization that is trying to start something. Let’s do something about it.

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