But is solar power cost efficient? Is it truly green to manufacture photovoltaic cells? How much land would be needed and what would it cost to replace a typical power plant with a solar energy system?
To obtain the power rating of the Vatican solar installation, simply divide 300 MWh by the number of hours per year, e.g., (365 x 24) to obtain 0.034 MW--the power rating for the Vatican solar photovoltaic system.
To predict how many solar panels would be needed to get 1,000 MW [1 GW) of power, such as is produced by a small nuclear power plant like Wolf Creek in Kansas, solve the equation:
0.034 MW/2,400 panels = 1,000 MW/x panels.
Solving for x gives 70,588,235 panels needed to replace a single small power plant. Each installed solar panel at the Vatican costs $667, so the cost to replace a small power plant is 70,588,235 x $667 = $47,082,352,750.
The 70+ million solar panels needed to replace a single power plant will cover an area of 70,588,235 x 5,000 sq meters/2,400 panels = 147,058,823 sq meters. There are 4,047 sq meters in an acre, so dividing 147 million square meters by 4,047 sq meters gives 36,338 acres needed to replace a small power plant. At 640 acres per square mile, this represents 57 square miles of land needed to install over 70 million solar panels to replace ONE small power plant. [BTW, to replace a large power plant would require five times these values.]
"My solution to the energy crisis? Nuclear power. We already know how, it is less dirty than fossil fuel, power plants require only acres of land, not square miles and the US has all the uranium she needs inside her own borders. Forget trying to store the waste forever--settle for a century. We should also drill offshore for more domestic oil since nuclear plants can't be built overnight, and the American automobile fleet won't be all-electric for some years to come. And we can use wind and solar power where it makes sense.
"Oh, and since candidates for president can spend a hundred million dollars to get us to vote for them, maybe we can spend the same to undo the 30 years of anti-nuclear nonsense that brought us today's energy crisis in the first place." [Jeffery D. Kooistra in Alternative View, published in ANALOG: Science Fiction and Fact, January/February 2009.]