Published On: Thu, Oct 11th, 2012

If you switched the US annual budget for its fleet in the Persian Gulf to solar PV, you could provide free electricity to all of the US

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If you switched the US budget for its fleet in the Persian Gulf to solar PV, you could provide free electricity to all of the US.  The US used 3,856 billion kWh of electricity in 2011.  Assume for the sake of argument that all of that electricity was replaced by solar photovoltaics.   Wind would do fine as well and is cheaper and may  be more appropriate in different locations.

Assume that for each kilowatt of electricity installed it generated 1,000 kWh of electricity per year.  This includes the fact that solar only works during the day time and mainly in the summer.  In order to replace all of the electricity generated in 2011 you would need to install 3,856,000 MW of solar PV.

Assuming that this cost $1.4 million per MW to install (it would be lower if we built at this scale) that would mean you would need a budget of $5.398 trillion to install it.  Since the main cost of solar PV is in capital expenditure and the fuel is free the only remaining costs would be maintenance and operations, which are relatively low.  The solar PV panels should operate for 25-30 years as a minimum.  So, for a cost of $5.398 trillion you would get “free” electricity for the next 25-30 years, or the equivalent of $216 billion per year for 25 years.

Bearing in mind that the US military budget is $687 billion per year, this $216 billion per year is the equivalent of spending 31% of the US military budget.  For this cost the US could disengage from the Persian Gulf, saving $235 billion per year, saving the tax payer a net $19 billion per year (see article: Why do we need the military? Securing energy supplies and trade routes for more information.)

American business and citizens would have free electricity at this point for 25 years, making their economy not just greener and more vibrant (renewables require more jobs that their equivalents in coal, gas and oil), but cheaper to manufacture goods to compete with the rest of the world.

Some commentators will poke holes in this argument:  what about battery storage, what happens at night, what about the grid infrastructure etc.  All are valid criticisms.  But the existing electricity sector will still be there, providing back up power, and the excess provided by solar would be sufficient to power fleets of electric vehicles. Those vehicles have batteries which could be used to help balance the load on the grid as well.


This article was originally a footnote to another article about the military:  Why do we need the military? Securing energy supplies and trade routes and was designed to highlight how much we spend on the military on securing energy supplies and trade routes.  The footnote – this article – then explained how if some of the budget allocated to defending energy – the Persian Gulf Fleet – was switched to providing indigenous energy in the United States we could provide enough electricity for the entire country.  This footnote uses solar PV, but wind could easily be a substitute as well. This is an amazing fact.

What we are not advocating is the abolition of the military! The military remains a vital component of our national defence and readiness.  From the very beginning of civilisation and the rise of cities several thousand years ago, before free schools, free healthcare, unemployment insurance and so forth, the one area that governments have always spent money on is the military.  This will never change, and nor should it.


History Future Now, ebook edition, is now available from the Apple iBookstore!  So if you have a iPad or iPhone click on this link to download it.  It is currently on at a special offer of 99c.   The Kindle version has been submitted to Amazon and should be available shortly.
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  • Daniella J

    “I completely see your point.. But… military funding in the past has been the main driver behind innovation in many areas such as, digital computing, astrophysics, biological sciences etc. And this includes some of the knowledge platform that is used now for renewable energy technologies. Without defending at all the disproportionate amount of money spent in security issues, I do wonder what would happen with innovation if these funds would not have been there? Would we have destined such a large amount for technology and science development?”

    • Tristanfischer

      Military innovation has been phenomenal. Had there been no WW2 we would have had no rockets, no nuclear power, no satellites, no space missions etc. But it is also rather inefficient. Had the same money been spent on R&D had we skipped the slaughter and destruction we would have been better off.

  • If you switched US annual budget for Persian Gulf fleet to solar PV you could provide free electricity to ALL of US

  • Stats show that if you switched budget from US Persian Gulf fleet to solar PV you could provide free power to ALL of US

  • John Nistler

    An interesting point. Economics are now viable with costs per watt of rooftop PV systems with optical and electronic enhancements coming under $2 per watt.

    Modify tax code so that individuals can apply first year capital depreciation and 5 year MACRS to energy efficiency improvements and solar power then the USA would become the biggest RE user worldwide with solid employment in the USA.
    Posted by John Nistler

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  • John Yan

    It’s really amazing
    Posted by John Yan

  • Joel Kahn

    Tristan, I encourage you to look at the World Community Grid:

    One of the Grid’s projects is focused on improving solar power technology, and the Grid’s other humanitarian projects are worth participating in too. Spread the word.
    Posted by Joel Kahn

  • Kelly Parker

    Think of all the new batteries that will eventually become toxic landfill, polluting the Earth, oceans, butterflies, and unicorns; and compare that to the thrill of having floating cannons that can take out enemy cities from offshore.
    Posted by Kelly PARKER

    • Tristan Fischer

      This made me laugh!

  • Saturday Read: If US budget for Persian Gulf switched to Solar PV, US could provide free electricity for ALL of US

  • Costin Rusu

    The US don’t want electric power
    Want only power !
    Posted by costin rusu

  • James Vaughn

    Tristan, you are mixing issues; that we shouldn’t lavish tax money on foreign military adventures does not imply we should expend those public funds on a private energy venture. Each must be evaluated on its own merits and if a private venture is viable it should be funded in capital markets not by our government.
    Posted by James Vaughn

    • Tristan Fischer

      James- my main point is that the US budget on its Persian Fleet is not a military cost but an energy cost. The US government has already decided to use tax payer money to intervene in the energy market. Keeping on this theme if they were to switch their energy budget from Middle East to the US they would spend less money. Finally the energy sector is too strategic to be left to the private sector alone.

      • James Vaughn

        Tristan, and I will counter that we should end the expenditure on our foreign military and diplomatic adventures and just save the money. I just don’t buy into the tactic of cutting wasteful spending then wasting it on something else.
        Posted by James Vaughn

  • John Kershner

    This is a fantastic example of what a bad idea it is to mix your political feelings in with and energy conversation. So if we pulled out completely from the Gulf the cost of running the Navy and other military operations would just dissapear, of we don’t need a military at all?

    One half of all the money spent by the federal government in the first part of the 21st century was allocated to social welfare programs. This includes money for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other welfare plans. This is double the percentage of what was spent on welfare in the 1960s.

    Could we power half of the world with that?

    Perhaps we should keep energy discussions about energy?

    Read more: Facts About Welfare Programs in the United States |
    Posted by John Kershner

  • Brian Glenn

    Or, as T.Boone Pickens states; if the US converted its long-haul trucking fleet to CNG fuel instead of diesel – we could eliminate approx 3mmbpd of crude oil imports, including the 1.5mmbpd or so that comes from the PG. Then the nation could decide whether to continue basing our 5th Fleet and patrolling there ( for oil flows going mostly to China, Japan, western Europe). Presently, CNG is approx $2/gal cheaper, and cleaner, than diesel anyway. The supply system is being established along inter-state highway routes now ( see CHK and XOM statements ). Time to sell shares in the major refiners, which import sour crude ?
    Posted by Brian Glenn

  • David Swinney

    Perhaps you’re using a definition of “free” that I’m not familiar with. You seem to be suggesting that paying $6 trillion today in exchange for $300 billion worth of electricity per year for 25 years makes the electricity “free”. To me it looks like about the same price we are paying now.

    Posted by David Swinney

  • John Kershner

    My comment was about mixing your political feelings in with energy, my intent was to suggest separate feelings from facts. It seemed to me some of the logic and math was flawed.
    Posted by John Kershner

    • Noel Susskind

      Everything is politics, John. Economics and politics are hard to separate, and energy is a major component of the economy at both macro and micro levels..Does that modify your response any? Criticism aside, I think the comparison between military energy consumption and regular economic activity is a poor one.
      I think the problem is one of information, education and understanding. After that, planning and execution.
      Talking about US policy is hard in this context, especially since the US military has no clear objective anymore, except to defend our territory and its citizens from harm. Oh how I long for the days of a clear military objective, when the USSR and China were clearly our enemies, but alas…
      Posted by Noel Susskind,

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