I recently saw an article going around about how much land we would need to power our country with solar energy, and I was blown away — to say it’s a small amount is selling it short. According to Elon Musk, we only need a couple of counties in Texas with a couple of thousand rooftops — or just 0.6 percent of our land — and we’d have renewable energy for the whole country.

I couldn’t get over how simple that sounds, so I did a bit more research into solar energy facts to find out why we aren’t doing this, like, yesterday.

First things first, Elon Musk isn’t wrong and isn’t oversimplifying a grossly difficult task, but he does gloss over the meaty problems of our current energy situation in this country. So what’s standing in our way of solar power for all?

The Problem with Permits

My natural first question after reading the article is why aren’t we installing solar panels on everyone’s roof? The answer in a nutshell: permits. At this point in solar technology, you can’t just hop on down to Lowe’s and grab a couple to install yourself. The biggest problem that I came across in my research was lack of solar companies and lack of neighborhoods that were cleared to be able to have solar panels. In order for the solar panels to work, they need to be connected to a main battery and circuit system, and a lot of these are not set up for your average American.

If you do live in an area that is capable of solar energy, you need to get a consultation from a solar company. They give you your options based on square footage, and then you start the installation. Since solar panels are not cheap, you won’t start reaping the benefits until down the line. Your energy bill will be lower, and you will get a tax credit and write-off, but you’re also going to be paying off those panels. I think the aspect of not seeing the financial benefits of solar panels more quickly scares a lot of people away.

Finding the Land

My next question was if roofs were our only option for solar panels — why not all the unused acres in this country? There are more and more solar fields being built every year, but it’s a slow process. One of the main aspects that I didn’t think about until I started googling all of this was the facilities. If you build a giant field, you’re going to need to hook it up to giant batteries, and the rest of the power system for that town, and subsequently the rest of the country. You’ll need to build facilities for the workers and roads to get all the equipment to and from the build site. You have to pay all the workers and hire multiple people to oversee the project.

Another very big concern is animal habitats and American Indian land. The government would have to purchase a plot of land to fit all these solar panels and facilities without ruining anything in the process. Based on the current situation in North Dakota, these types of things are not easy or quick. That’s so much time and effort that I feel like a lot of people wouldn’t vote for it because they see it as wasted money.

Inspiring Others to Care

That brings me to my last question: Why does no one care!? I think the biggest problem is the talk of climate change in general. Too many people think it’s something they get to choose to believe in or not. Science has already proven it’s real, it’s here, and it’s getting really, really bad. Once more people acknowledge we need to take action now, we’ll start to come together a lot faster to help this process move along.

I truly believe your average American isn’t going to deeply care about a topic unless he or she gains something in return. If you’re reading this and are wondering about just that, let’s break it down.

There are three types of solar energy: photovoltaic, solar heating and cooling, and concentrating solar technology. Photovoltaic are the typical solar panels you see on roofs to produce electricity for homes and businesses. Solar heating and cooling are panels that do just that, heat and cool. They are used for things like hot water, space heating and cooling, and pool heating. Concentrating solar technology are the panels you usually see in giant fields off the freeway. These curved mirrored panels collect the sun’s energy and convert it for turbines or engines to create energy to store for a rainy day. Along with the federal investment tax credit, a lot of states and counties offer rebates or incentives as well.

Elon Musk has also created a battery wall to help Americans transition inside their homes. I’m hoping that this, combined with more awareness, will help us move faster toward the teeny tiny part of America that should be covered in solar panels.

If you want to help get solar energy more prevalent in your town or community, contact your local government and ask what they are doing to make this happen.

Now that you’ve learned a few solar energy facts, are you ready to make the switch to solar power? Here are 9 crucial steps to prepare your home. 

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

By Audrey Holmes

Based in San Diego, Audrey Holmes is on a personal journey toward zero waste. She admits to watching otter videos on YouTube way too much and having an unhealthy obsession with matcha. Speaking of green, read all about her zero-waste journey on her blog, Green Blue Marble.