A Times Daily article from September 26, entitled, “New Solar Farm Completed,” provides some pertinent information concerning the potential production of electricity from solar energy. The Colbert plant provides 227 megawatts of electrical capacity from a 1,800 acre farm at a construction cost of 224 million dollars.
This information allows us to make rough estimates of the land area and cost of other systems. For example, the TVA Colbert fossil plant stands on 1,345 acres and at its peak produced 1,204 megawatts of electrical potential. In order to match this output, a solar farm similar to the Colbert farm would require 9,547 acres at a cost of 1.2 billion dollars.
The current United States electrical capacity is about 1,120,000 megawatts. A Colbert-like solar energy system would require 13,900 square miles of land surface at a cost of 1.1 trillion dollars.
The above estimates apply only to the construction of the basic solar plant. The big problem with solar energy is that it is not constant. The sun does not shine at night and its energy varies considerably with seasonal changes (longer and shorter days, clouds, etc.). Hence, backup systems are required to maintain suitable wattage.
The Colbert solar farm only exists because it is highly subsidized by the Government (TVA) who buys its power, supplies its network, and insures a suitable wattage output.