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.
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.