The Impact of Solar on Oil Consumption – Deniers Read and Learn

Without debate one of the most important ways we have to reduce our consumption of oil and fight climate change is through the purposeful use of clean, renewable energy sources. There is no more formidable and important technology in this arsenal than solar technology.
The debate over the impact this wonderful technology offers rages on, but by examining the pure science behind it, we can eliminate all the errant and harmful assumptions being made. Let us relax while the science speaks for itself. Here are the facts.

  • One barrel of oil provides 1,700 Kw-Hr of energy.
  • The US consumes 7 billion barrels of oil per year.
  • That equates to 11,900,000,000,000,000 Kw-Hr of energy per year  or 11.9 Quadrillion Kw-Hr per year.
  • To simplify, 1 million Kw = 1 Gigawatt.
  • Dividing by 1 million we learn that the US consumes roughly 12 million Gigawatt-Hr of oil per year.
  • The largest solar plant in the world is the Bhadla Solar Park in India which produces 2.25 Gigawatts.
  • Remember, this is NOT a Gigawatt-hour (GW-hr) rating because the watt-hr convention is descriptive of 24 hour/day, constant output. Solar plants only operate at 100% for a small amount of time.
  • On an average day, most sources say that a solar farm is at 100% capacity for only 3-4 hours. Considering clouds and storms, it may be less than that. However, considering this is a desert location and panels can be tilted to increase efficiency, and to account for low production time, lets just say that this plant overachieves and is at peak for a whopping 6 hours per day.
  • What we then arrive at is that the Bhadla farm produces about 0.6 GW-Hr, (2.25 Gw-Hr x 25% of the day)
  • This farm occupies 14,000 acres.
Let’s take a breath now and do the rest of the arithmetic
  • To replace our need for fossil fuels would require (12 million GW-Hr) / (0.6 GW-Hr per Solar farm) = 20 million solar farms the size of Bhadla.
  • 20 million solar farms x 14,000 acres = 280 trillion acres.
  • The United States occupies 1.9 billion acres. The entire Earth occupies 36 billion acres.
  • Then, to replace our oil consumption with solar energy we would only need 147 solar farms the size of the United States (280 trillion acres needed ÷ 1.9 billion acres per US sized Solar farm).
  • On an easier to visualize scale we would need only 7.7 solar farms the size of the entire Earth to replace our need for oil. (280 trillion acres needed ÷ 36 billion acres per Earth sized solar farm).

Okay, so Solar is starting to look not so good. Since we don’t have 7.7 Earths to build these solar farms, let us see what happens if we only want solar technology to replace 10% of our need for oil. 10% sounds good, right?

  • If we only want to displace 10% of our oil consumption we will only need 14.7 solar farms the size of the US (10% x 147 = 14.7 Solar farms). In acreage this would be 14.7 farms x 1.9 billion acres/farm = 27.93 billion acres).
  • For the sake of argument 27.93 billion acres would be a solar farm that occupies 77.5% of the Earth (27.93 billion acre farm ÷ 36 billon acres/earth).
  • Now think about this, if the entire US was a solar farm, we would replace only seven tenths of one percent of our oil consumption.  

Let me help you with the associated arithmetic. Note, this is not math, this is arithmetic. One must master arithmetic to do mathematics. This is fifth grade level stuff. Don’t ever say, “do the math” because you are not “doing the math”. Calculus is math. The four operations (+, -,×, ÷) are arithmetic.

  • 10% oil reduction = 14.7 USA size solar farms.
  • 1% oil reduction = 1.47 x USA size solar farm.
  •  1 Plant the size of the entire US / 1.47 USAs = 0.7%.

I worry that some will think this represents 70% of our oil consumption. Listen up McFly, this is NOT 70%, it is 7/10 of 1% of our oil consumption. If we built one solar farm as big as the entire United States we would reduce our need for oil by seven tenths of one percent. Of course, we would have to find a place to live and have really long extension cords.

For college professors, liberals, and climate change believers, here is the scientific takeaway. Solar technology will have absolutely no impact on the world’s consumption of oil. It is a niche technology that is great for powering your CPAP machine or some such thing. It can help power a few homes but the idea that it can help make us independent of fossil fuels is scientifically impossible.


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