A 100% Solar-Powered Future Is Impossible—Requires 7.2 Times More Silver Than Currently Exists

a 100% solar powered future is impossible because there is not enough silver on planet earth to build enough photovoltaic cells

Switching To 100% Solar Power Is Impossible—There’s Not Enough Silver On Planet Earth

The debate over carbon emissions and the switch to “green energy” is usually fought over whether or not green energy is the best way to help the environment, or whether it is a cost-effective way of doing so.

Never, it seems, do people consider whether or not making the switch to green energy, particularly solar energy, is actually feasible.

As it turns out—absent a black swan event that turns solar technology on its head—there is not enough silver on planet earth to build enough solar panels to power the world.

You heard that right.

A 100% solar-powered future is impossible, given earth’s resource constrictions.

This holds true even if the efficiency of solar panels quadruples.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Modern solar panels are about 20% efficient.  This just means that 20% of the energy in solar radiation is converted into electricity, while the rest is lost as heat.

Even though this is actually quite decent, we would nevertheless need to completely cover an area the size of Spain in solar panels to generate enough electricity to meet global energy demands by 2030.

This is clearly an enormous waste of land—it would be better to preserve that land, and instead switch to nuclear power, or stick with fossil fuels.

But that’s besides the point.

Even if we wanted to cover that much land with solar panels, we couldn’t.

Why?

There’s simply not enough silver to do it.

Let’s run through the numbers.

Silver is a critical element in solar panels.  In fact, roughly 20 grams of the stuff goes into an average solar panel, which is 1.8 square meters.

Given that there are 1 million square meters in a square kilometer, this means that we would need 11.1 million grams, or 11.1 tons, of silver per square kilometer of solar panels.

Spain is 506,000 square kilometers in area—which is how much area we’d need to cover in solar panels.

This means that 5,616,600 tons of silver would be required to build enough solar panels to power the world.

That’s way more silver (7.2 times more) than we have—or that exists.

Right now, humans only have only mined, and have access to a total of 777,275 tons of silver—this isn’t even close to enough silver to build enough solar panels.

In fact, even if we mined all of the silver on earth’s crust, there still wouldn’t be enough to make the transition to 100% solar power—even if solar panels became four-times as efficient we still couldn’t do it.

Solar power may be useful to augment conventional power sources, but it can never replace them.  Period.

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7 Comments on "A 100% Solar-Powered Future Is Impossible—Requires 7.2 Times More Silver Than Currently Exists"

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MrHC
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I’ve never understood the desire for solar power.

The requirements of a power grid are that a

1) there’s a large amount of energy available

2) that energy production can be scaled up or down according to demand

3) the energy production doesn’t fluctuate much and

4) that it’s cheap (since all other industries depend upon it).

Solar power fails on literally all 4 criteria. Let’s think of something better already.

I have an idea. How about clean coal, natural gas, or nuclear?

Ryan Tyler Rimmel
Guest
> 1) there’s a large amount of energy available There is an overwhelming abundance of Solar Energy available, literally the entire climate system of the planet is Solar powered. All life on Earth is directly or indirectly Solar powered. This is nonsensical. > 2) that energy production can be scaled up or down according to demand You build more capacity than necessary and then use techniques to store the excess as desired. This can be things like using pumps to fill a reservoir that empties overnight when the sun goes down or just simple batteries. Scaling up and down only matters when the cost changes. A Solar cell running at 100% or 10% is a fixed cost. >3) the energy production doesn’t fluctuate much and If you build it in a desert, which is where everyone actually plans on building them should a plan like this occur, it doesn’t. Or you build enough that you have excess capacity. >4) that it’s cheap (since all other industries depend upon it). Its presently at .99c per installed watt. When it gets to .76c per installed watt then its the cheapest form of power available. .76c was the magic number when Solar was 1500 dollars an installed watt, but since that was NEVER going to happen, Solar was never going to be a thing. Currently they are in line to have that number by 2025. For example, the amount of silver in a Solar cell has been halved since 2010 (when Silver got expensive) and they are expecting to half it again in the next 4 years if they don’t remove Silver from Solar entirely (they can make Solar without Silver currently, its not cost effective yet but that cost is dropping too) >Solar power fails on literally all 4 criteria. Let’s think of something >better already. Please inform yourself better. You are making a late 90’s argument against modern Solar. Its depressingly misinformed. >I have an idea. How about clean coal, natural gas, or nuclear? LNG (natural Gas) is going to be a critical component of our power grid until Solar gets cheaper and then its going to be in a market dominant position for decades. After that, its probably going to be solar. Coal is never going to be a thing again due to Fracking. LNG is just a much cleaner, better form of fuel and LNG plants run much better than coal plants for the modern needs of the electrical grid. (easier to install, maintain, require fewer staff, have the ability to scale up and down quickly etc) Nuclear, at least fission, has a massive NIMBY (not in my back yard) problem. We could rehabilitate Nuclear, but with LNG at an all time low, its not going to happen. So to be clear, we left coal a few years back, LNG is the bridge energy source which will remain for decades, and we will be using Solar/Renewables in the future. Solar wins because FREE ENERGY FROM THE SKY beats a… Read more »
MrHC
Guest

1) In light of this article, there’s not.

There’s not enough mineral resources to build the solar cells to generate even 1/7th of the earth’s energy needs. Unless a major technological breakthrough happens, solar is a dead end: and maybe the technology will be there, but it’s nonsensical to base policy on something that may or may not happen.

2) That’s not at all cost-effective. Solar cells operate at a reasonably decent capacity only half the time (due to night), therefore we’d either need:

a) Enough non-solar generating capacity to power the entire grid independently, which adds in a massive redundancy & basically doubles power costs.

b) Or we’d need to build a massive amount of extra capacity & store it. Again, this massive redundancy would cost a retarded amount. You’d need to generate at least double the amount to account for night & cloudy days etc. That’s a fuckload of resources that could be better used elsewhere in the economy.

3) What the fuck desert? Are you a retard? Most of the Western world is in northern latitudes & in cloudy/rainy climates. So that’s not an option.

And if we built massive power plants in the Sahara or wherever, you’ve now just given power over the entire electrical grid to 3rd world dictators. Basically, you’re re-creating another OPEC, but this time for our electricity market.

Also, sending energy that distance is so inefficient you’d have to generate 10x the capacity just to get it to Europe. That’s why power is always generated locally: the power loss over transmission wires is high.

Without superconductors (again banking on something that doesn’t exist), this whole plan is fucked. Not only that, you’re putting the West at risk of energy dependence on foreign enemies.

4) No. Solar energy only seems “cheap” because of massive government subsidies.

Coal costs 2.5c/kwh

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/20090930/25-cents-kilowatt-hour-americas-cheapest-cleanest-fuel-holds-steady

Solar (at best) costs 5c/kwh with subsidies (and this coming from a clearly partisan source).

https://cleantechnica.com/2015/09/30/average-utility-scale-solar-price-in-u-s-falls-to-5%C2%A2kwh/

Without subsidies the cost is estimated at between 11-30c/kwh

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/302900-solar-energy-cant-survive-without-massive-subsidies

Solar can never compete with fossil fuels because fossil fuels already concentrated millions of years of solar energy into oil & coal. It’s impossible for it to not be as efficient, for the same reason coal will ALWAYS be more efficient than burning trees.

Ryan Tyler Rimmel
Guest
1) This article is wrong. Period. It makes poor assumptions that are easily demonstrable to be false. a> Solar Cells in 2010 required more than twice the amount of silver they required in 2014, and even less now. The amount of silver that is required continues to go down. They can also make solar cells without silver and some solar power systems never required silver in the first place. Silver is not a sticking point for the Solar industry. b> Good point, lets let China, Europe, India and the rest of the world go ahead and develop the technology, jobs, infrastructure and everything required for that new industry so we can… buy it from them in 10 years. Its a strategy, just not a smart one. c> They know how to make Solar Cells out of pure carbon right now. Everything in the new solar industry is just a matter of panning the technology out. All the big US power producers are already going that direction. 2) That’s not at all cost-effective. Solar cells operate at a reasonably decent capacity only half the time (due to night), therefore we’d either need: a) Enough non-solar generating capacity to power the entire grid independently, which adds in a massive redundancy & basically doubles power costs. > Solar’s costs keep dropping, go on. Also you realize there are hundreds of methods of storing that power from pumping up a reservoir to storing it as heat, and we can do that now. We have enough new disruptive technology in the pipe such as home storage batteries that this is not really an issue. b) Or we’d need to build a massive amount of extra capacity & store it. Again, this massive redundancy would cost a retarded amount. You’d need to generate at least double the amount to account for night & cloudy days etc. That’s a fuckload of resources that could be better used elsewhere in the economy. > Oh… you are operating on a pure solar basis… no one is saying that. There will ALWAYS be other forms of power. Solar is just going to be a much more significant portion of the mix than it is now. a> We know how to store power if we have excess generation its just not practical in the current grid. IN a more modern grid, which needs to happen anyway, there are ways of storing it in. Texas, right now, turns off their LNG plants when its windy and uses their wind turbines and then flips the LNG back on when the wind slows. Because we are masters of our environment. So it doesn’t require a fuckload of resources, just some intelligent planning. 3) What the fuck desert? Are you a retard? Most of the Western world is in northern latitudes & in cloudy/rainy climates. So that’s not an option. > Have you heard of Arizona? And are you not aware of high voltage transmission lines? And if we built massive power plants in the… Read more »
Spencer P Morrison
Admin

Always glad to see some good discussion. Some good points have been made by both of you.

One point worth mentioning: the solar industry has received hundreds of billions of dollars in government funding for R&D, which has allowed the technology to develop quite rapidly.

Given the massive subsidies & continued funding, it’s likely that said technology will continue to get better.

My problem here is the opportunity cost: what would’ve happened if we had spend those same hundreds of billions, and dedicated the same legions of scientists & engineers on proven technologies, like increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel & nuclear plants?

I think it’s safe to assume we’d have seen similarly disruptive technologies that could’ve made our existing energy infrastructure dirt cheap, clean, & efficient. We won’t know, because we spent the money chasing the sun.

Or better yet: what if we had spent all that money building nuclear & hydroelectric plants? The resources are there & the technology was already proven.

Had we done this, America’s power grid could’ve been emission-free 20 years ago, and it would’ve cost a lot less than waiting until solar energy was viable.

Furthermore, power would’ve been so cheap that it’s questionable whether offshoring would’ve occurred—America would likely still have its manufacturing base, and the middle class that goes with it.

My point: it took 30 years of investment, and hundreds of billions to make solar energy (almost) viable.

It would’ve taken a whole lot less time and money to simply improve the stuff we already had.

Rosco
Guest

Silver is only one of rare essential elements required for solar cells – and the Chinese have an almost monopoly on these other rare earth elements.

Besides such devices have a lifespan just like everything else – there isn’t enough raw essential materials for solar to ever power the world – Solar thermal is a better bet but has the less than half day problem.

Thorium may be the best nuclear possibility – it would be today except you can’t make nuclear weapons from Thorium reactors which is why Uranium got the “nod”.

Rosco
Guest

I forgot electricity is only a fraction of the energy demand!

Show me the freight ships, aircraft, combine harvesters, tractors, semi-trailers etc etc that run on electricity.

Wind and solar generate less than 1% of todays electricity demand and the fraction of TOTAL energy demand is insignificant.

They both suck !

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