For starters, the cost of owning a solar-powered rover is substantially less than the cost of buying the same amount of land from the government.
An estimated 1.3 million acres were converted last year, according to an analysis by Eureka Consulting and the Natural Resources Defense Council. On average, each leaseholder paid $14,871 a year toward the costs of utilities that provide power to the system. While that money is only a fraction of the total amount spent by utilities on their power needs, it’s an incredible number to ignore.
In 2012, companies like SolarCity Corp. and SolarReserve Corp. collectively spent $3.65 billion to turn solar panels on their roofs into reliable, affordable solar power. With a little wiggle room, SolarCity could feasibly spend $10 billion to cover the costs of solar-powered vehicles — or roughly 2.5 acres.
Even if that number was the most accurate, that would still be less than a fifth of the land the United States uses for farming.
Another problem is that the amount of land that’s covered by solar or wind power varies considerably from place to place.
So far in 2013, the U.S. has converted 1.3 million acres of land in Nevada, Arizona and other western states, according to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association. In addition, land in California, Oregon and Utah converted to solar has doubled over the past five years — and in Arizona, the number has risen 40 percent.
If you don’t pay for your own power
Finally, as noted earlier, when you don’t pay for your own power, it can be hard for utilities to find any work to do.
That’s why utilities don’t advertise. They don’t promote solar or wind. They’re just not there.
“All the ads are to the power company, and they tell you you need to have two kilowatt hours per household — that won’t do,” said Jeff Tittel, solar director at the San Francisco-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory, noting the utility industry has been successful in this regard in recent years.
It appears that solar-powered vehicles are doing a bit better, but that depends on the state.
A 2010 study by the University of California published in the journal Energy Policy found that, at that time, all but one of the 28 states with publicly owned solar electricity systems were seeing their solar bills drop. The study
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