How many solar panels would have been needed to power the Death Star?


With the race on to eliminate carbon emissions from the world’s energy systems, solar power has long since been accepted as having made the transition from an energy source of the future to a mainstream option.

But, with an eye on solar’s history of deployment on space missions – combined with an enthusiasm for big screen classics – the folks at West Yorkshire-based PV installer Solar Fast have put their heads together to have a stab at estimating how many 400 W panels would be needed to power the technology in some of our favorite on-screen moments.

Let’s start with the world’s most famous DeLorean.

Great Scott, Marty, we need 1.21 GW!”

That’s the kind of energy you were only going to find in a bolt of lightning in 1955 – at least in a small town in the US.

The 1.21 GW weren’t to power the car itself, of course, they were needed to kick-start the nuclear reaction in the flux capacitor (see Busted’s forthcoming UK tour for more details).

That means Doc would have needed 3.025 million 400 W panels set up in Hill Valley’s main street to get Marty back to 1985 in sustainable fashion, not to mention a fair wedge of batteries, given Marty was travelling at 10:04 p.m.

Solar finds a way

By contrast, the task of juicing up the electric fences needed to keep Jurassic Park’s velociraptors at bay would be much more achievable.

With the fences charged to deliver 10,000 V, and with agricultural electric fences today able to reach that level and use a single energizer to power 14 km, we reckon you’d need only nine panels to power the 80 miles of fencing on Isla Nublar. None of which solves the problem of grasping employees switching them off, of course.

As far as Star Wars’ Death Star is concerned, the member of Solar Fast staff who tried to work out how much energy would be required to power the planet-destroying laser had to be taken for a lie down in a darkened room so we reined in our ambition and instead looked at the load required to simply keep the lights on.

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Wikipedia authoritatively states the Death Star has 85 levels and 257 sub-levels with more than 2 million staff occupying a floor space of 120km x 120km for a volume of roughly 9.05e14m3.

If we estimate around 101.76 billion 100 W lights bulbs would be needed, that’s more than 25.4 billion panels needed on the surface of a spaceship upon which windows appear to have been at a premium, although, Darth Vader would probably have been quite handy at securing a bulk purchase discount.

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Staying with space opera, we pondered how many panels would be needed to power the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D Federation Galaxy-class starship captained by Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now there’s a chap likely to be on board with the energy transition.

The Treknology website informs us “Warp drive in Star Trek works by annihilating matter (in the form of deuterium, a kind of hydrogen gas) and antimatter in a fusion reaction mediated by dilithium crystals. This produces the enormous power required to warp space-time and drive the ship faster than light.” But y’all knew that already, right?

With the potential to produce 2.5 PW of energy – to get the ship to warp 9 – and 2.5 million panels needed per gigawatt of output, the Enterprise would have needed 6.25 trillion panels.

pv magazine print edition

The latest issue of pv magazine takes a look at how the long-established link between solar and cannabis cultivation can help improve margins as medicinal and recreational use of the drug comes out of the weeds. We take a trip Down Under to examine why communities are rebelling against planned renewable energy zones perceived as being railroaded through without sufficient local consultation, and we consider the “solar crime” wave sweeping the UK and Europe.

How about, then, the Ghostbusters’ proton packs, desired by every kid attending a fancy dress party in 1984 and enjoying a renaissance since their appearance in Netflix smash Stranger Things?

The website informs us each pack was powered by Curium-246 and needs 1.5 MW to trap a Focused, Non-Terminal Repeating Phantasm or a Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor.

With that kind of load, each pack would have needed 3,750 of our panels to get going but we’re confident Egon would have trimmed the number by using batteries and having a decent rooftop system installed at the station.

Genius, billionaire, playboy, solar champion?

The Proton Pack requirement is considerably less than what’s needed to fire up the arc reactor that powers Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit and just think, it had gone through 42 designs by the third film, all apparently powered by a domestic socket!

As Stark says during his big screen debut, “If my math is right – and it always is – three gigajoules per second” is the load required. That would equate to 3 GW of generation capacity and, therefore, 7.5 million panels.

Still, if anyone would be able to rise to a technical engineering challenge like that, it would be our man Tony, although, given it’s a palladium-powered fusion power source, maybe Stark Industries wouldn’t have been the most likely candidate to be pursuing solar power.

And don’t get us started on the subject of the reputational damage recent Daniel Craig whodunnit Glass Onion has caused to the green hydrogen industry. That’s a whole ‘nother debate entirely.

By Robert Cathcart

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