When President Trump released a press statement claiming that despite pulling out of the Paris climate accord, the U.S. would rise to become the “the cleanest” country on planet Earth, building a border wall mounted with solar panels was the last thing people thought of.
Interestingly, that seems to be part of his long-term plan.
According to the latest report by Axios, Trump has made a proposal to Republican congressional leaders for building a solar-paneled border wall that would generate electricity with its returns being used to foot the costs.
Some of the leaders present at the meeting say President Trump envisions 40-50 foot tall barriers with solar systems installed all over to generate energy and also form “beautiful structures.”
Axios states that:
“The president said that most walls you hear about are 14 feet or 15 feet tall, but this would be nothing like those walls. Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the solar-paneled wall as long as they said it was his idea. One person cautioned that the president wasn’t presenting the solar-paneled wall as the definite solution.”
On 17 March this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security made two requests inviting proposals from eligible applicants for border wall design prototypes. The first RFP request submission was for a solid concrete wall while the second was labeled “other border wall,” which was a provision for alternative designs.
A Las Vegas based Gleason Partners LLC was one of the applicants, and the company that made the proposal to install solar panels all over the wall as indicated in the AP reports in April.
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In the proposal, the solar panels would sustain power sensors, lighting as well as patrol stations located at the border site.
Furthermore, Gleason Partners claims that the electricity sales from the border wall’s array to the U.S. utilities and possibly Mexico could cover the border’s construction costs within 20 years or even less.
“I like the wall to be able to pay for itself,” added the managing partner Thomas Gleason.
The Trump administration is scheduled to select winning proposals in the border wall bid later this month.
“If you really believe that putting solar on the border wall would make it ‘pay for itself’, that means you believe in the positive economics of solar,” stated Shayle Kann, vice president of GTM Research. “So why not put solar on all government buildings and new construction?”
He said that the supposed “solar wall” is only a distraction and that “What actually matters is the wall itself, and that’s where the conversation should be focused,” said Kann.
What’s the Overall Cost of the solar wall?
Several clean energy experts are already warming up to the idea of erecting a solar border wall, and have even come up with some calculations suggesting how much is needed by Trump’s government to complete the project.
For Elemental Energy, a local solar PV design and installation company in Portland, Oregon, Trump’s solar barrier could gobble between $10 billion and $15 billion, assuming the project is constructed at $1 per watt – which is currently the going rate used for any growing number of fixed-tilt utility-scale PV systems.
To arrive at this figure, the company assumed that the solar panels to be installed would cover about 1,000 miles of wall space, a stretch that forms unobstructed land between the United States and Mexico. The solar array would be mounted in five modules high.
Given a specific type of solar panel, and system pricing efficiency, Elemental Energy established that the wall had the potential to host a 1.4-gigawatt array and possibly generate 7.28 gigawatt hours of electricity each day, amounting to $106 million in electricity sales annually, assuming a $40 per megawatt hour PPA.
Elemental Energy had previously indicated a payback period of approximately four years, but their latest blog post says that based on the figures shown above, the payback period for a $10 billion wall generating $106 million in annual revenue would be around 100 years. This timeline may extend to 200 years if the wall’s cost shoots to $20 billion, as government reports suggest.
Generate Capital co-founder Jigar Shah approximated that the border wall is likely to house about 5,000 megawatts of solar panels which would generate in excess of 6,600,000,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Additionally, he estimated the project’s returns to be nearly $15.8 billion over the solar panels’ 40-year lifetime.
President Trump has projected the wall’s construction cost at around $12 billion.
“So if the power were to be sold to the Mexican people — power they desperately need — then the [president] could actually make good on his promise to say that the Mexican people paid for the wall,” Shah recently noted, albeit sticking tongue-in-cheek.
The Downside of the Project
Despite the numbers looking all exciting and promising, considering all the logistical issues involved in building a solar wall this project may never be a reality.
First, these calculations assume that all solar costs involved are standard. But in the real sense, a solar wall could cost a lot more due to transmission costs, electrical issues and possibly the security measures that must be factored to complete the equation.
The element of the utilities to buy the power is still unknown. These solar systems would be installed across the whole southern U.S. border, and hence power lines must be availed in every location with demand.
Setting up these lines and paying for them is a complex affair—not forgetting the permission and interconnection issues that could be a real nightmare for developers working on the border wall.
In spite of having all the power to fix all the above issues, in theory, and considering that the U.S. has already built a massive, and one of the most innovative coast-to-coast highway systems in the world, President Trump’s administration has a tough task to ensure all of these challenges are solved, and funding is secured from Congress.
Based on reports from reliable sources, installing solar panels is not really the “definite solution” for financing the border wall project, which after all may never see the light of day.