How many km2 of solar panels in Spain would it take to power Germany?

By Dr. Lars Schernikau and Prof. William H. Smith

This article, which we posted at the end of November 2020, has been updated and now includes the latest numbers through February 2021.


Germany is responsible for about 2 % of global annual CO2 emissions from energy. To match Germany’s average annual electricity demand (~20 % of Germany’s final energy consumption) solely from solar photovoltaic panels located in Spain, about 9% of Spain would have to be covered with solar panels (45.000 km2). In addition, storage capacity totaling about 310 TWh would be required. To produce sufficient backup storage capacity from batteries using today’s leading technology would require the full output of 310 Tesla Gigafactories in perpetuity. Of course, no Teslas would be produced in those 310 Gigafactories. For the entire European electricity demand, 90% of Spain (450.000 km2) would be required, coupled with a battery capacity 7x higher.

To keep the Solar Park functioning just for Germany, panels would need to be replaced every 15 years, translating to 10% of global annual silicon production. Remember that metallurgical silicon is produced at 2.000 ºC from silica (quartz stone) and coal. The silver requirement for panels powering Germany would translate to over 35% of the annual global production. For the EU, essentially the entire annual global silicon production and 4x the annual global silver production would be required.

There are not enough raw materials for the battery backup. To produce the required batteries for Germany’s backup would require mining, transportation and processing of 2,5-4,5 billion tons of raw materials every year (7x more for Europe). The raw materials required include lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, graphite, rare earths & bauxite, coal, and iron ore for aluminum and steel.

In conclusion, the authors question if it doesn’t make sense to replace Germany’s power demand with solar from Spain, why would it make sense to even replace a fraction of power anywhere in Europe from solar panels installed further North of Spain where the natural sunshine conditions are much worse?

The full article is available on the ResearchGate website at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349535980_How_Many_km2_of_Solar_Panels_in_Spain_and_how_much_battery_backup_would_it_take_to_power_Germany


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