U.S. President Donald Trump touted a new, "unique" plan for his promised wall along the Mexican-American border yesterday (June 21).
His grand idea: a solar panel wall.
"We're thinking of something that's unique, we're talking about the southern border. Lots of sun, lots of heat," Trump said at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "We're thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy, and pays for itself. And this way Mexico will have to pay much less money, and that's good."
Trump: Mexico Border Wall May Be Solar Wall
"Think about it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is," Trump said. "My idea."
The president has estimated that completing the barrier would cost $8 to $12 billion, according to a June 22 report from Bloomberg.
But here's the problem: Those numbers are too low. Far too low.
Here's the real cost...
Solar Panels Are Cheap; It's the Wall That's Pricey
According to an October 2016 report from MIT Technology Review, a 50-foot tall, 1,000-mile long wall would cost roughly $38 billion dollars.
And then there's the solar panels...
Allan Gao, an engineer at renewable energy firm LanzaTech, did the math.
"Assuming you want to cover 100% of one side of the wall with solar panels, you need 1,000 miles, or 24,535,315 square meters of solar panels," said Gao to Quora.
"Making a broad assumption that such a large order for solar panels would reduce the cost by 50%, the cost of this facility would be $6.5 billion dollars. A lot cheaper than the wall itself!" said Gao.
Which is to say, if President Trump just wanted the panels without a big wall to put them on, his $8 billion number would be more than enough.
But when you add the estimated cost of the wall itself, $38 billion, to the cost of the solar panels, $6.5 billion, you get a whopping $44.5 billion. That's roughly four times the president's estimate.
However, Trump claims that the solar panel wall will be "paying for itself" over time by generating electricity.
And it will... in 78 years.
"If all of this revenue is profit (and it never is), a simple payback on this investment would be 23.4 years," said Gao. "On the other hand, if your profit after accounting for costs of operating and depreciation is in the range of 30% of revenue (quite good for the energy market), the payback period is 78 years."
That's a long time to wait. But Mexico is footing the bill, right?
Trump's Solar Panel Wall Costs: Who's Paying?
Mexico still stands strong on its decision not to fund the wall.
In a televised address, Mexican President Peña Nieto told the nation on Jan. 25, "I've said time and again: Mexico won't pay for any wall," adding that "Mexico doesn't believe in walls."
And U.S. lawmakers have confirmed the decision. When asked whether Mexico would reimburse the United States for a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, "Uh, no."
So Mexico is out. And U.S. taxpayers are in.
The day after Nieto's comments, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was already working to convince the media that the wall would save taxpayers money elsewhere in the budget.
"I think we're going to save additional money that we would have had to spend on tracking down illegal immigrants and on immigration," said Spicer on Jan. 26. "So it's actually a huge win for the American taxpayer and for American security when you look at the kind of plan that's coming to fruition right now."
That was before the president decided to make the wall an energy source. Though it seems unlikely that Mexico will change its mind, the revenue-producing solar panels might make the wall that much more palatable to legislators - and the taxpayers they represent.
And if Trump's solar panel wall does become a reality, there is a way for you to profit...
Solar Energy Stocks Are Due for a Boon
The solar industry has finally reached "grid parity" with fossil fuels, which has been the goal since solar panels were first invented in 1954.
Grid parity means consumers can generate electricity from solar at or below the price of hooking up to a traditional electric grid. And consumers are taking notice.
In 2016, solar companies installed 39% of all new electricity-generating capacity in the United States, topping all other technologies for the first time, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. And that number is only growing...
By the end of 2017, solar power capacity in the United States will have nearly tripled in less than three years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
And that's without the help of a $6.5 billion contract for Trump's solar panel wall.
The growing solar market will open a massive profit opportunity for the renewable energy sector.
Investing in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) gives you the best and broadest exposure to the global renewable energy sector, including solar, according to Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors, an internationally recognized expert in emerging market economic development.
However, not all solar energy ETFs are the same.
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