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Solar Distortion

April 30, 2010

So after my last post about the evil Mercator, I got an e-mail asking how this distortion has played a role in real life maps. Therefore, I give you:

So what is so wrong with this map?

It purports to show the area it would take to power the world on solar panels alone, but does so using a projection that is not equal area. This means that all those solar panels, most of which are gathered near or around the tropics, appear to be much smaller than they actually are.

This map got a lot of coverage in the blogosphere in late 2009, and I will not pretend that I am the first one to notice that it uses a bad projection to distort its message. In fact, the author of the map go so much flack over this distortion that he ended up having to redo the map using an equal area projection later.

Unfortunately, much of the power of his message – that we can power the world with a seemingly small area devoted to solar power (yes, these panels are actually quite large, but do seem small) got lost in the controversy over the projection he used.

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