What If We Took Trump's Suggestion Of Making Solar Panels A Key Part Of Construction To Heart?

"Pretty good imagination, right?"

While discussing his plans for a border wall between Mexico and Texas, President Trump indirectly acknowledged the value of solar power.

During an unusually early campaign rally in Iowa on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump gave an update on his proposed border wall between Mexico and the southwest region of the United States: he wanted to cover it in solar panels. The plan, which the president took credit for, is his innovative way to make the wall "pay for itself."

"We're thinking about building the wall as a solar wall so it creates energy and pays for itself," Trump said. "And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that's good right? ... Pretty good imagination, right? Good? My idea."

As has been pointed out by just about every expert in the space, a cost-effective solar wall on the border is entirely unrealistic. Among other things, the wall wouldn't come close to paying for itself, vertical walls aren't good for solar, angled walls wouldn't actually keep people out (and, as the White House says, that is the goal of the wall), and transmitting the power through a desolate desert region to populated cities is difficult and expensive. There's also the fact that dust and extreme heat — two staples of the border region — reduce the efficiency of solar panels.  Even in the best case scenario, panels on the entire south-facing wall would produce less than one percent of California's energy use, according to KCET's Environment Editor Chris Clarke


There's also the simple fact that a border wall — even without solar panels — is going to run into a ton of obstacles

Still, President Trump's idea indirectly endorses a point that environmentalists and solar enthusiasts have been making for years: solar panels are a cost effective feature of construction and Americans would be wise to embrace them.

As Elon Musk pointed out in 2015, some estimates say properly maintained and efficiently positioned solar panels in one corner of Utah or Nevada could power the entire electrical grid of the United States

Musk, who recently left Trump's advisory council in protest that the president pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, has laid out some far more feasible and cost effective plans for solar panels.

One, which he annouced in 2016, was for his company SolarCity to replace the roofs of five million homes with solar panels. Their plan is to create solar outfitted roofs for regular homes that are affordable and appealing to average American homeowners. Musk says that installments could power a house 24 hours a day off nothing but solar energy.

Musk is also hoping to build solar factories that produce solar and power themselves with solar. One is already under construction and set to open this year in Buffalo, where unemployment and low-wage jobs are hurting the economy. 

California is producing so much solar power that it's paying other states to take it so it doesn't overwhelm California's power lines. Once barren desert lands in California's Central Valley are now covered in solar panels and producing enough energy to power a city of 475,000 people. 

Overseas, in places like Tanzania, cheap solar power is pumping clean water to communities that otherwise can't afford or find it. Solar-powered phone chargers and fans are already on the market. Ford recently developed a solar-powered vehicle for everyday use. A group of teenage girls recently developed a solar-powered tent for the homeless. There have even been solar-powered boats spotted in France. 

While Trump acknowledges the value of solar, he is simultaneously planning budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Energy Program and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, government bodies that have helped grow and research solar energy use.

For now, those who want to see the advancement of solar will be left hoping Trump's imaginative energy ideas can go beyond just his plans for the border. 

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Thinnapob Proongsak


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