This week the concept of a Solar Wall between the US and Mexico became a thing. A country does have a right to protect it borders but I believe, particularly if I’m paying for it, that the solution should actually work. Currently, I don’t think it will. It would take decades to complete and by then we’ll likely be up to our armpits in things like this personal human carrying drone, this one (for skydivers), or this flying Uber vehicle out of Europe that will have no issues going over walls. Granted weaponized drones (like this one shot down in Syria) likely should be concerning us more at the moment than they do but in my mind if it will be relatively easy to hop over even a tall wall in ten years why start a process that will result in a tall wall that’ll take 10 years to complete.
The I saw coverage that the President wanted to make the wall a solar wall and thought that well, that is at least a step in the right direction it just wasn’t completely thought through yet. But we got the typical partisan behavior where one side ignores the problems and the other takes the problems and blows them out of proportion.
Let’s talk about how an energy producing wall might solve both problems.
The Problems Of A Solar Wall
The problem with a solar wall is initially three-fold. One the panels, if used for the wall, would be at the wrong angle for efficient yields, two glass panels make poor walls, and three getting the power to anyplace useful would be very expensive.
So rather than ignoring the problems or make them sound insurmountable, let’s actually focus on fixing the problem of both making the wall more effective and helping make it self-sufficient.
Since I’m pointing to human carrying drones as the problem I can also point to defensive drones as the solution. With sensors and landing/charging pads for drones every mile or so you would have a series of nearly always flying drone interceptors who could disrupt, destroy, or simply disable anyone trying to lift off the wall. Now you have another reason for electrical power that is away from the grid and these drones and sensors would also be effective at stopping a weaponized low altitude drone from coming into the country unchallenged. Some of the anti-drone technology consists of little more than dropping a net on the thing and just having this in place would likely reduce substantially the use of technology to hop over the wall.
Solar Panel Yield
It really makes no sense to make the panels the wall but you could mount something like the Solar Flower at intervals along the fence and not only get better yields but you’d have something that could protect itself from weather or even vandals if designed correctly. Under the proper conditions it would deploy from a hardened case and follow the sun taking an unusually low yield for panels on the wall to a vastly higher yield for panels and it looks really cool.
But why limit this to solar, Wind turbines would likely be more interesting in many places where the fence would run and while they can be bird blenders in the past new designs are developing that are relatively bird safe and also potentially more attractive.
Now you are generating power what do you do with it? As noted the cost of transmitting the power can be relatively high and the technologies I’m talking about would generate far more than the security systems and drones would consume.
But you could put manufacturing plants near the wall that wanted cheap power, cities could grow up near the wall that supported these plants and also got clean power, and where the wall intersected rivers you could put in solar powered facilities that would clean out the pollutants and you could have solar powered pumping stations that moved that clean water along the wall enabling farming in places where it currently doesn’t exist. Finally, you could incorporate both personal and shipping transportation, automated and solar powered, so the goods that were created and the people that created them could move from the low-cost factories to homes and ports quickly and with solar powered efficiency. Likely an optimal use of Musk’s Hyperloop. So that you’d get a jobs bump not only when the wall was built but long after the wall was in place. This could justify a far higher spend up front and get the wall built faster.
I think the solar wall, or a wall that self generates, could be made viable with the proper application of technology both to secure it and to make use of the energy being generated in close proximity to the wall. Rather than becoming an embarrassment, which is where it has been headed, as a joint US Mexico project it could benefit not only both countries but be a showcase for US and Mexican ingenuity and execution. I also think the probability it will go that way is slight but one could only hope.