At the end Elon Musk he might be right. In 2016 the volcanic founder of the electric car brand Tesla had argued that 100 gigafactories composed of solar panels would be enough to supply electricity to the entire planet. Without having to bother with fossil-based power plants.
If the question is how many solar panels do we need to save the climate, then the answer is just around that number: 100. One hundred gigantic factories by 2025 would be enough to ‘defossilize’ energy demand by 2035. According to Christian Breyer, a professor at LUT University of Lappeenranta in Finland and head of a research group that studies future zero-impact energy systems, there is a precise mathematical model that accommodates this view.
As reported by the Deutsche Welle newspaper, Breyer’s model focuses on solar photovoltaics (PV): “Solar supplies 69% of the global full-fledged primary energy demand. The rest comes from wind power, biomass and waste, hydroelectricity and geothermal energy. Nuclear power is not included because it is simply too expensive. Photovoltaic technology is getting cheaper every year; the costs of building nuclear power plants, on the other hand, are rising“.
“The production of one MWh of coal-fired electricity causes around one tonne of CO2 emissions. Actively removing CO2 from the air and storing it permanently can cost around € 100 per tonne in the long run. By comparison, one MWh of electricity costs an average of € 33 in Germany in 2020. This means that coal-fired power is actually at least three times more expensive than electricity from photovoltaic or wind power plants.“, Explains Breyer, quoting precisely costs as a positive side of a switch to solar.
The largest photovoltaic module factory in the world is currently under construction in the Chinese province of Anhui. It will have a production capacity of 60 GW per year, according to GCL System Integration. For comparison, global PV production capacity in 2020 was around 200 GW, 90% of which in China. “Breyer ‘s LUT model envisages a global electricity system powered entirely by renewable sources, with 78,000 GW of installed generation capacity, of which 63,400 GW of solar photovoltaics, of which approximately 8,800 GW in Europe. According to current industry plans, by 2024, the cumulative amount of photovoltaic modules installed worldwide is expected to reach nearly 1,500 GW. To achieve the LUT scenario by 2035, an additional 62,000 GW of PV modules (or 62 terawatts, TW) must be produced and installed between 2025 and 2035“, Always writes the Deutsche Welle.
Quick and easy calculation: to have 60 TW you need 100 gigafactories of 60 GW each, of which 15 in Europe. Musk’s idea of returning.