The Scale of the Global Energy Transition
[source] An area in the Sahara with the size of Bulgaria, covered with solar panels and all the world’s present day energy needs would be covered.
The Sahara is associated with strong solar irradiation. How much Sahara surface area would be required to power the entire world with pv-solar? Mehran Moalem, PhD, UC Berkeley, Professor, expert on Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Fuel Cycle, did the calculation.
How much energy is the world consuming anyway?
The total world energy usage (coal+oil+hydroelectric+nuclear+renewable) in 2015 was 13,000 Million Ton Oil Equivalent (13,000 MTOE) – see World Energy Consumption & Stats. This translates to 17.3 TW continuous power.
OK, so how much of the Sahara would be required to generate these 17.3 TW? Surprisingly little:
Now, if we cover an area of the Earth 335 kilometers by 335 kilometers with solar panels, even with moderate efficiencies achievable easily today, it will provide more than 17,4 TW power. This area is 43,000 square miles.
For Europeans, that’s 111,370 km2 or relatively small European countries like Bulgaria, Iceland or Greece. For Americans, think Tennessee or Virginia.