Donald Trump puckers up

Trump may favour solar-powered US-Mexico border wall

Image credit: PA Mediapoint

This week, US President Donald Trump pitched the idea of a border wall covered in solar panels to Republican leaders in Congress. His description of a solar-powered wall is similar to a proposal for the border wall design, submitted earlier this year.

The proposed wall along the US-Mexico border formed a major and memorable part of Trump’s presidential campaign, resonating with anti-immigration sentiment. In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of constructing the wall.

Despite his election campaign promise that “Mexico will pay” for the wall, the Mexican government has adamantly refused, and the White House has requested approximately $13 billion of public funding be set aside to build the wall.

In a meeting with Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday, President Trump was reported to have pitched the idea of covering the border wall with solar panels, in order for it to pay for itself.

The wall would be 40–50ft high, he said, with solar panels all over. They would be “beautiful structures”. President Trump said that most walls you hear about are 14–15ft high, but this would be “nothing like those walls”.

According to an anonymous Republican aide, President Trump told the representatives that they could talk about the solar-powered wall so as long as they credited him with the idea. One person present at the meeting hinted that the solar panel wall might not be a definite solution.

Solar powered wall design

Gleason Partners

Image credit: Gleason Partners

In March, the US Department of Homeland Security issued requests for border wall design proposals: for a solid concrete wall, and alternative designs. It was reported that a Las Vegas-based applicant, Gleason Partners LLC, submitted a proposal for a solar panel-covered wall. The proposals described how the solar panels would power equipment at the border, and generate electrity to sell to Mexico to cover construction costs. Indirectly, this would result in Mexico contributing towards the wall.

In response to the revelation that a solar-powered wall had been proposed, some energy experts began making estimates of its cost. According to a blog post by Elemental Energy, an Oregan-based company, a solar-powered wall would cost $10–15 billion, if the panels cover the entire length of the wall, and could potentially pay for itself in just over four years.

After pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the world’s first comprehensive commitment to limit global temperature increases, President Trump announced that the US would continue to be the “cleanest” country in the world. If he hopes that a solar-powered border wall boost the US environmental credentials, he may be disappointed.

Complications would be likely to arise regarding the cost and ease of transmitting power from across the entire border, which is 3200km, and the optimal orientation of the solar panels (facing south towards Mexico).

Shayle Kann, vice-president of Green Tech Media Research, commented on its website: “If you really believe that putting solar on the border wall would make it “pay for itself” […] why not put solar on all government buildings and new construction?”

“What actually matters is the wall itself, and that’s where the conversation should be focused.”

In its call for border wall proposals, the Trump administration requested designs at least 30ft high, hard to climb over, able to resist an hour of sledgehammer of pickaxe attack, and which are “aesthetically pleasing”, at least from the side facing the US.

The White House is likely to select a border wall design and begin awarding contracts this month. US Customers and Border Protection will require up to 20 shortlisted bidders to build prototype wall sections in San Diego ahead of construction.

Other proposed designs for the border wall include a wide wall topped with a deck to allow tourists to admire views of the desert, a fence and 100ft trench storing nuclear waste, a wall with a monorail on top which uses voice analysis technology to identify the emotional state of riders to assist law enforcement, a wall made of attractive recycled glass, a concrete wall with art covering both sides, and a wall made of lighthouses and three million hammocks: almost certainly a satirical submission.

The Otra Nation, a collective of Mexican and American engineers and other workers, have submitted a “no wall” plan, instead proposing that the US-Mexico border becomes a shared “regenerative territory” full of cultural attractions, solar farms, and with a hyperloop system running the length of the border.

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