These land-use estimates can also be compared with other energy-production land uses. For example, a study by Vasilis Fthenakis and Hung Chul Kim of Columbia University (2009) found that, on a life-cycle electricity-output basisincluding direct and indirect land transformationutility-scale PV in the U.S. Southwest requires less land than the average U.S. power plant using surface-mined coal.
A previous NREL report, "Land-use Requirements and the Per-capita Solar Footprint for Photovoltaic Generation in the United States," had estimated that if solar energy was to meet 100% of all electricity demand in the United States, it would take up 0.6% of the total area in the United States.
This time, the data come not from estimates or calculations, but from compiling land use numbers from actual solar power plants. Every solar energy site analyzed in the study is listed in a detailed appendix.
"All these land use numbers are being thrown around, but there has been nothing concrete," Ong said. "Now people will actually have numbers to cite when they conduct analyses and publish reports."
NREL previously had released a report on land-use needs for wind power. Doing the same other generation resources including coal, natural gas and nuclear estimating land use via huge sample sizes would help inform decisions, Denholm said.
The report provides fundamental data that can be used to understand the impacts and benefits of solar. "Modelers and analysts, people looking 10 or 20 years into the future can use this report to evaluate the impacts solar energy may have," Denholm said.
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory