At a rally in Iowa last week, Donald Trump had his God-awful proposal for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border on his mind. This time, Trump seems have abandoned the Mexico-will-pay-for-it-all rhetoric and, instead, suggested that solar panels would make a effective border, so effective that the U.S. could then sell the resulting energy to Mexico at a cost; thus, ensuring a Mexican-paid wall.
“Lots of sun, lots of heat,” Trump said, almost as if talking to a group of preschoolers, at the rally in Cedar Rapids. “Think about it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is. Pretty good imagination, right, good?”
It’s…an idea. Not the best idea, but it’s not the worst idea (because a concrete wall is the worst idea—or rather a wall built out of puppy heads is probably the absolute worst idea). That said, putting solar panels on a stupid wall doesn’t change the fact that the wall itself is stupid.
For starters, this idea indicates Trump has no idea how solar-power works. The president needs to understand that, while technologically feasible, there are dozens upon dozens of more technical and cost considerations than just slapping solar panels onto a 2,000-mile concrete wall like you’re tiling your uncle’s bathroom. The panels need to be sloped at specific angles, while, at the same time, mounted in such a way that’d prevent people from entering. There’s also the issue that the wall will be 40-feet high. Don’t forget: The entire stretch of the border will need a fucking power grid.
Trump says this has the potential to make the U.S. money. Thankfully, Liam Denning at Bloomberg went ahead and calculated this cost, and it’s so much that even the sun can’t afford it. Construction of the 1,933-mile, forty-foot tall solar wall alone would cost $40 billion, and about $20 billion of that would be paid by taxpayers.
As if the price tag isn’t alarming enough, Denning says that “assuming all this and that the solar wall was somehow completed by 2020, it would have paid for itself by the year … 2168.” That’s about 37 election cycles away—or, as close to now as the current president is to the days of Ulysses S. Grant. None of this even factors in the additional complexities like permits, varying regulations crossing state and country lines, all while leaving aside the reality that mounting solar panels atop or lining the sides of a giant wall is probably the least effective way to maximize solar output. If it were effective, energy companies would be doing this already.
Oh, and all of the power generated from the border wall, Trump says it’ll be sold to Mexico as payment for the wall, which, by the way, Mexico has continuously said will not pay for that fucking wall.
Trump also doesn’t realize the sheer scale of a solar-wall project. Either that or Trump is the biggest proponent of solar energy the United States has ever seen, which is surprising because just a few months ago, his budget proposal completely undermined the solar industry.
A solar wall of this magnitude would multiply U.S. solar output by 50 times, and it’d require more than twice as much concrete to build as the Hoover Dam, making it one of the biggest construction projects in U.S. history—up there with the Panama Canal.
Ridiculous or not (if it’s functional and cost-effective, it has the potential to be brilliant), this idea suggests Trump may be willing to invest in green energies, something many of his voters actually love—despite what the loud-mouths say.
Iowa, for example, depends on green energy, thirty-seven percent of the state’s energy comes from wind farms, and, currently, there’s $4 billion in investments for new wind projects. Even newly anointed Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, put forward an energy plan that called for expanding the wind, biofuels and solar industries.
And other states are realizing the potential. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, just signed a bill that provides tax breaks for residential and solar installations.
Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada, just last week, signed a bill that encouraged solar investment in the state.
In Virginia, one of the traditional “coal states,” for the first time in history, solar jobs outnumber coal jobs. Numbers from the Solar Foundation show that the industry grow by roughly 65-percent over the last year.
That’s a big deal in coal country. States—like Republican holds in Nevada, Iowa, and Virginia—are realizing that the benefits of industries like solar outweigh the damages of coal. Within the last few years, solar costs have come down radically, and, coupled with natural gas and other renewables, there’s minimal need for coal. If states can implement alternative energy policies correctly, they can save lives and make money.
Joshua Pearce, an associate professor in Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech University, estimates that switching to solar could save about 52,000 American lives and make up to $2.5 million for each life.
“Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved,” he told Michigan Tech News. “In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has an economic value.”
Trump’s proposal is more than likely more fluff from a man who, at this point, full of so much fluff he’s practically a marshmallow. It’s quite possible—read: really fucking possible—that this solar-wall is just another dismal attempt to garner public support for a border-wall; that is, until he builds it anyways and says, “Solar-wall? Fake news.”
Top photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture, CC BY 2.0
Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.