The point behind this statement isn't to actually build the damn thing that way. That'd be ludicrous. You'd lose way too much in transmission. The point of this statement is to show that solar is viable and not as land-intense as people think. There are far more acres of land dedicated to producing and refining fossil fuels than the 6.4 million that this solar facility would use.
Edit: This comment was not meant to be pro-solar or anti-solar. I just noticed that lots of people seemed to be taking this 100x100 mile solar farm idea seriously when it's just being used to show the scale of power production relative to the size of the country an easily digestible way for a lay-person. I've been hearing this same idea or a form of it for about a decade now and it is usually used to show the "footprint" that energy production uses.
Full disclosure: I've done work for wind farms and oil and gas production sites and am in favor of market based solutions such as a carbon tax on fossil fuel production while pumping that tax money into public research into renewables. It's asinine to think we could just shut down the pumps and go green tomorrow, but it's slowly happening more and more every day. It took fossil fuels over a hundred years to get to the massive production, refining, and transportation scales that they are at today. Solar and wind are moving at a blinding pace compared to that. So for all you die hard greenies that think it's not happening quick enough, and to all the coal-rolling rednecks who think they're under attack from liberal commie power, quit getting your panties in a twist. Shit's gonna change at the speed the market and technology will allow whether you like it or not.
The full transcript of what he said:
> “If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States,” Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island. “The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”
> It’s “a little square on the U.S. map, and then there’s a little pixel inside there and that’s the size of the battery park that you need to support that. Real tiny.”
Sounds feasible? (Of course, as a side effect, if his company got the contract, it would make him the richest man alive most likely).
The math: 1 mile is ~1600m. 1m^2 gives ~1kW, and we'll assume 25% efficiency, for 250W per m^2. This gives 250MW per km^2. 160 km x160 km = 25600 km^2. This gives a theoretical peak of 6.4 TW. Assuming we can get that for 8 hours a day (out of 12-16 hours a day off sunlight), that averages to 2.13 TW over the whole day.
I'm guessing that Elon is making a slightly more realistic estimate (e.g. accounting for space between panels, real world efficiencies vs. theoretical, etc.) but currently the entire US puts out ~12GWh per day, so it's definitely within an order of magnitude.
Also, just so we're clear, at $1/Watt installed, 2 Terawatt is 2 trillion dollars.
I just drove through Nevada. There's room.
"100 miles by 100 miles" sounds a lot smaller than 10,000 square miles.
It's not the ~~pants~~ plants that the hard part, it's the infrastructure to distribute the power