Did you know that coal plants produce 920 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), almost half a ton, for every megawatt-hour (MWh) of energy it produces in a year? The average American family produces about 10766 kilowatt-hours or almost 11 megawatt-hours every year, and energy demand is trending up year to year. The average coal plant releases 443 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year! The United States consumed over 26 TERAWATT-hours of energy in 2019. One terawatt-hour is equal to one million megawatt-hours. That means that coal plants produced nearly 13 million tons of carbon dioxide powering the United States alone.
Okay cool, that's a big number but I don't really know what that means, what does 13 million tons of CO2 even look like? Let's start with one ton of carbon dioxide. One ton of carbon dioxide is about the size of a ranch house on the smaller side, about 1250 square feet if it had an average height of 13 feet. That translates to over 16000 cubic feet. Great, now we have a smaller number, 16000, but still a huge number to really wrap my head around. Let's break it down some more. How big are you? How big is a person? Let's take the example of a relatively large person, if they are 6 feet tall, 2 feet across, and 1 foot thick (that's pretty thick) then they are 12 cubic feet. At roughly 12 cubic feet per large person, we could fit 1333 large people in the space that a ton of carbon dioxide takes up.
That's just one ton of CO2 though. One ton of CO2 could fit 1333 large people in it. Remember that a coal plant produces about half a ton of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour every year and that America consumes more than 26 million megawatt-hours ever year, which is equivalent to almost 13 million tons of CO2. One million tons of carbon dioxide could fit 1333 million or 1.333 BILLION large people in it. That means that 13 million tons of carbon dioxide could fit over 16.9 billion people. That's more than the ENTIRE existing population of humans on our planet! That's insane! No wonder climate change is such a big deal, every year, just the United States of America ALONE is pumping out enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to take up more space than our entire population as a species!
Solar farms require about 8 acres to produce one megawatt-hour of energy. The size of a solar farm ultimately decides how much energy it is capable of producing. The smallest solar farms product at least 1 megawatt of energy per hour. The smallest solar farms are estimated to be able to power almost 200 homes every year. We are looking to start with at least 20 acre areas, which means we'll be starting solar farms of at least 2.5 MW. At this size, we aim to power 500 nearby homes every year.
The estimate for 8 acres per MW solar farm also assumes that our solar farm gets 4 hours of peak sunlight a day. 4 hours a day? That's so little sunlight! You might exclaim to yourself. It is, it really is not a lot of sunlight considering that the sun is in the sky 8 hours a day on average, it's only half the time that the sun is expected to be up. However, the key here is peak sunlight hours. Solar panels are at their most efficient when they receive more direct sunlight. These sunlight hours tend to peak in the couple hours around noon.
As we look for locations of solar farms, things we are keeping in mind include average peak sunlight hours, how many people live around the area, and how many people are projected to live around the area in the next 20 years. One of the challenges around solar energy is that solar energy is not consistent. There are days with lots of sunlight, and days without much sunlight. Two ways to combat this challenge are better battery/energy storage technology, and better handling of energy flow through smartgrids.
Remember when we found out that coal plants put almost half a ton of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere per MWh? One small, 1 megawatt, solar farm can offset half a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. That's the size of over 600 people. Starting at 2.5 MW, one of our solar farms can keep over a ton of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. From our calculations above, we know that one ton of CO2 takes up more space than 1333 large people.
I have more good news, not only do solar farms produce clean energy, stopping over one ton of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere per solar farm, but they are also now cheaper to start. Thanks to new technologies in solar over the past few years, the cost of buying, installing, and maintaining solar panels is dropping. Not only that, but coal plants are getting more expensive to produce, and have been since 2005, the coal industry has described these prices as "skyrocketing" or "soaring". It now costs an average of over $3.5 million to start a 1 MW coal plant, compared to the average of $1 million to start a 1 MW solar farm.
So your investment in the future, is not only a smart investment environmentally, but also a smart investment financially. Solar farms cost less than the current most used for of energy and solar energy is being pushed by the US government to produce 40% of electricity consumed by Americans by 2035. We plan to be there to build the solar farms required to achieve this goal. Together, we can make green energy accessible to all.