The Summer of 2015 saw the reaching of a deal between Iran
and the rest of the world (primarily the United States
and major powers in Europe
). Broadly outlined, Iran agrees to suspend research towards acquiring a nuclear bomb
(naturally, Iran claims there's nothing to suspend and it has never tried building a nuclear bomb, its nuclear research being "peaceful" and directed at producing electricity for its people), and allow certain inspections, and in exchange Iranian cash frozen in the banks of other countries gets released. It's not exactly clear how many Iranian dollars are frozen -- estimates range from $25 billion to $150 billion, with the US official estimate being $56 billion, with $40 billion of that being held by US banks. (Importantly, despite complaints that Iran is currently buying this or that with this money, none under the control of the US has actually been released yet, and inspection conditions will keep that from happening for several more months).
Opponents of the deal, naturally, fear Iran will take this cash and pour it into the funding of regional terrorism, or worse will renege on the deal and use it to fund more nuclear research. But remember, now, the reason Iran claims to have needed to do any nuclear research at all is the fulfillment of its energy needs. And so I suggest, as a solution, instead of giving Iran $40 billion in cash, simply use that $40 billion to buy solar panels
, and give Iran an in-kind release of funds in the form of this $40 billion worth of solar panels. Now, though solar panel efficiency seems to improve almost daily, the current typical cost of electricity generation by this technology is somewhere around 10 cents per watt-hour. So $40 billion in the average commercially available solar panel market would buy 400 billion watt-hours of power,*
or four million megawatt-hours. The largest three-reactor nuclear power plants generate about 4,000 megawatt-hours, so $40 billion in solar panels could provide panels for a solar array generating as much electricity as three thousand
older-model nuclear reactors. For comparison purposes, the entire US has about 100 nuclear reactors, and these combine to provide about 20% of its electricity, so we're talking about providing the capacity to produce 600% as much energy as the entire US uses, with no nuclear power being generated at all.
Oh, and one more thing -- where to get these solar panels? Well it turns out that the country with the most advanced solar power research anywhere in the world is.... Israel
. With its many hostile neighbors relying on oil revenue
, Israel has been highly incentivized to go solar, and has in fact led the world in this field since all the way back to the 1950s (more on this at another time). And Israel is likely the country which most fears an Iranian nuclear attack (certain of Iran's leaders occasionally having boasted of their view that Israel ought to be "wiped off the map"). So, yes, I am suggesting that instead of giving Iran its $40 billion back, the US ought to give that $40 billion to Israel as the purchase price for $40 billion worth of top-of-the-line solar panels, and deliver those solar panels to Iran instead.
*Note: This is just for the cost of the panels themselves. Infrastructure would be needed to install the panels, either on individual homes or in some sort of central solar array -- ideally a tracking array which follows the sun to maximize output -- and to channel generated power to end users. So Iran would need to devote some of its own resources to making itself a solar nation, but that would be nifty as a jobs program for Iranians.