Elon Musk Backs ‘Obvious’ Solution to Europe’s Energy Crisis

The billionaire is the CEO of Tesla, the electric-vehicle maker pushing the auto industry to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Europe discovered a new reality this winter: energy rationing.

No matter which European country you are in, the inhabitants explain to you how they must save energy because of the energy crisis hitting the Continent.

The war in Ukraine and tensions with Russia are plunging Europe into an unprecedented situation.

In some cities and small towns in France, for example, the ephemeral ice rinks set up in some cities during the holidays have no ice. One of the reasons put forward is the need to save energy.

In some municipalities, public lighting is switched off at certain hours of the night. Consumers are urged to monitor their consumption, to make efforts such as turning off the light each time they leave a room. 

Public authorities in some cities have moved from historic but energy-intensive buildings to more modern and well-insulated premises. Old oil boilers have been replaced by wood heating in some places. People have been warned to expect power outages. 

Solar Panels the Solution, Elon Musk Says

The population accepts this new normal. Since Aug. 1 France has burned 10.8% less gas than it did in the 2018 period, GRTgaz, a French company that manages gas pipelines. said on Dec. 28 

In Spain, the government approved a comprehensive plan for energy savings, known as “More Energy Security.” It includes 73 measures and aims, in particular to reduce the consumption of natural gas between 5.1% and 13.5% by March 2023. 

Spain and Portugal have obtained clearance from the European Union that they reduce their gas consumption only 7% instead of the 15% requested from the other European countries.

This exception is linked to the countries’ low level of energy usage relative to that of the rest of the Continent. The exception also currently enables these two countries to cap the price of gas used to produce electricity. 

Spanish consumers last October saved nearly 3 billion euros (US$3.19 billion) on their bills, compared with the price they would have had to pay without this mechanism, according to the government.

It is in this context that a Twitter user posted a message indicating that a broad installation of solar panels could power all of Europe.

Elon Musk seems to agree and even says that installing solar panels in a small area of Spain would be enough to solve the energy problems of the EU.

“The total area of solar panels it would take to power the world, Europe, and Germany. This map is from Nadine May’s thesis,” the Twitter user tweeted on Dec. 27.

“Such an obvious move!” Musk commented.

And then the CEO of Tesla added that: “Even solar plus batteries on a small section of Spain would solve EU energy needs.”

Ah, but What of the Cost of Solar Installations?

Musk’s message has drawn many comments, including from some energy experts. If many commentators seem to think well of solar energy, they nevertheless wonder about the cost of photovoltaic installations.

“Solar coverage for Europe would cost $trillions in solar panels, batteries and grid upgrades. EU not allowed to run deficits of that magnitude,” commented one user.

“But how much would it cost?” asked another user.

“This would be the most vulnerable expensive power grid ever. You only need one volcano or bad weather to make humans powerless. $trillions of panels would be toxic waste in the end,” added another Twitter user.

“What’s not so obvious is the cost. That many solar panels would require extensive maintenance as well as billions of dollars worth of piping/transport to bring the water for the steam (not to mention the implications to the native water supply). Good theory, hard to execute,” another user agreed.

Powering through solar energy is generally considered a great idea by energy experts. But this does require large investments regardless of the type of panels used — crystalline panels, which are made from silicon, monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels, even solar thermal panels, which are often used to produce domestic hot water and heating in some cases.

The price of solar panels has, however, been falling steadily for several years, while their performance is improving. This argument is far from over.

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