Trump floated a solar-paneled border wall with Mexico: here's what it would look like

Categories: Energy

Physically imposing… aesthetically pleasing… and solar

On Wednesday, President Trump added a new descriptor to the wall he'd like to see built along the United States’ southern border. Speaking at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the president said, “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. Is that good?”

While this may be the first time that Trump has stated this vision of the wall publicly, the publication Politico wrote that Mr. Trump first floated the idea in a June 6 meeting with legislative leaders. But how would a solar panel border wall work?

Around 400 companies submitted designs for the 2,000-mile wall to the Department of Border Protections by the agency’s April 4 deadline. The proposed designs ranged from the humorous—a border wall of light houses—to the futuristic. The Ottra Nation’s design, for example, is comprised of a Hyperloop transit system, and was more of a vision for “the World's First Shared Co-Nation between Mexico and the United States" than an actual wall.

The request for proposals included specifications such as, “the wall design shall be physically imposing in height,” and “the north side of wall (i.e. U.S. facing side) shall be aesthetically pleasing in color," along with some necessary aspects related to the wall’s telecommunication capabilities. But the call for proposals did not contain any solar energy requirements. In other words, the folks vying to design the wall didn't know it was supposed to be chock-full of solar power. As a result few of the proposals that have been publicly released seem to contain any reference to producing solar energy. Of those that do, the most visible is that of Gleason Partners, LLC of Las Vegas.

“Back when Trump started running for president and he stated that he wanted to build a wall, I started to tell people that if he becomes president and there’s going to be a wall I’d like to design a solar wall,” Thomas Gleason, managing partner of Gleason Partners, LLC told PopSci. Gleason says that he designed the wall to show that solar can pay for itself. In his team’s design, the base of the wall is precast concrete that goes under the ground to give the structure stability. The next eight feet is made of a tight mesh fencing that can’t be climbed or hooked into. Above that, the wall’s solar features kick in: from eight feet up to 24 feet, Gleason says, the structure will be made of a "solar curtain wall".

Donald Trump wants to deliver on one of the central promises of his campaign — building a wall on the Mexican border.

He pitched Republican leaders on June 6 on a proposal to cover the wall with solar panels and use the electricity generated to cover the costs of construction and maintenance.

Trump mentioned the hypothetical solar wall during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday night, saying "this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money," as his supporters applauded.

Thomas Gleason is the managing partner of Gleason Partners LLC, a Las Vegas-based architecture firm that submitted a proposal to the Department of Homeland Security that included solar panels. He told Business Insider earlier this month that he had been batting around the idea of building a solar-paneled wall along the US-Mexico border "for months."

Gleason, being in the construction business, said he knew a few people in contact with Trump, so he directed his firm to come up with a design and "get it in front" of the president after the DHS requested proposals. 

The wall would generate enough power to pay for its construction in under 20 years, Gleason claimed. But he cautioned that numerous variables — the Mexican border is far from a straight line and light intensity changes from month-to-month — could complicate his calculations. He said his firm hasn't received the go-ahead from the federal government to conduct a full evaluation. 

Gleason said his estimate is predicated on the cost of manufacturing solar panels decreasing over time. The price of installing solar panels has dropped from around $8 per watt in 2009 to $1.50 per watt in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. 

Business leaders within the renewable-energy sector commended Trump's decision to seriously consider going solar.

"We're excited that President Trump sees the economic value created by solar installations, as solar prices continue to plummet," Bryan Birsic, the CEO of Wunder Capital, a renewable-energy investment firm, told Business Insider.

"While we would prefer a different location and purpose for a large solar installation, we strongly support all additional generation of clean power in the US," Birsic said. 

Gleason said he believes that farmers on both sides of the border would appreciate the wall, as the energy output would create a "microgrid" that could provide cheap power to remote areas on the border underserved by energy utilities.

"We'd be our own utility," Gleason added, though he said third-party contractors would need to actively manage the wall, per the DHS's request. He said the cheap, renewable electricity produced by the wall should "mitigate" political resistance over time, and increase property values along the border. 

Gleason also said the panels sourced by his firm would be manufactured in the US, whereas a concrete wall would entail shipping "truckloads" of concrete from Mexico, along with the higher maintenance costs.

"Our intent is to offer a realistic, no-nonsense design for the wall that pays for itself that will make everybody happy, including our president," Gleason said. 

Here are some renderings of what the wall could look like, which Gleason's firm provided to Business Insider:

The panels on the proposed wall would be offset to avoid casting shadows, as solar panels are usually installed on roofs, not walls. The panels on the roof would move to track the sun.

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