The dream of powering Europe on only solar power is a great one and in a hypothetical sense it is technically possible. Solar energy has become more of a dependable energy source over the years, next to wind, and a lot of European countries are doing their best to ditch the fossil fuels for good. It’s a slow journey, of course, and it’s going to be a while before we see things change for good. So, for the sake of satisfying curiosity, the real question is: what needs to be done? How many solar panels will it take to power the whole of Europe?
The primary energy consumption of the EU in 2014 was 1,666 million tonnes of oil equivalent and it takes 0.0728 gallons of oil to produce 1kWh of energy. The problem with calculating the exact amount of solar panels necessary to produce this much energy is difficult to say because there are a lot of aspects that can affect the amount of energy they can produce. Depending on the amount of sun they get, the direction they face, the weather and how well they’re maintained, they could produce anywhere between 0.2 to 0.8 watts per panel. With the proper conditions, however, you would probably only need 496,805 square kilometres of solar panels to power the whole world.
So, it’s not entirely impossible. In fact, there have already been some plans to construct large solar panel sites to help us lessen our dependency on fossil fuels. Scientists and engineers from all corners of the globe have been racking their brains to find a way of utilising the Sahara desert as a solar energy site. The conditions are there and theoretically using the barren land as a solar farm could provide more than enough energy for the whole world. The issues that they’ve faced mostly revolve around maintaining the site. Each solar panel would need to be cleaned on an almost daily basis to ensure that it is producing the maximum amount of energy and harsh wind conditions across the desert could either damage or destroy them if they aren’t sufficiently protected. It’s a plan still in progress, but so far not much progress has been made.
There are some positives we can still consider, though. Even though it’s difficult to provide all the power for Europe in one place, solar farms and residential solar panels all help to make a difference. Germany in particular is Europe’s biggest contributor in terms of solar energy, producing nearly 7% of the total energy requirement and that number has continued to grow. Germany has even turned its clean energy into a tourist attraction. In the county of Wunsiedel you and your family can rent bikes and go for a scenic cycle through solar parks and around biomass power plants. So, when applying for an EHIC in preparation for your German holiday, think about doing something unconventional and taking a tour of Germany’s clean energy production sites and contributing to the ‘Country and Energy’ project. You’ll be contributing to the clean energy cause, seeing beautiful rural Germany and witness history in the making.