Land-use intensity of electrical production

Land-use intensity of electricity production and tomorrow’s energy landscape
Lovering et al.…
The global energy system has a relatively small land footprint at present, comprising just 0.4% of ice-free land. This pales in comparison to agricultural land use– 30–38% of ice-free land–yet future low-carbon energy systems that shift to more extensive technologies could dramatically alter landscapes around the globe. The challenge is more acute given the projected doubling of global energy consumption by 2050 and widespread electrification of transportation and industry. Yet unlike greenhouse gas emissions, land use intensity of energy has been rarely studied in a rigorous way.

Here we calculate land-use intensity of energy (LUIE) for real-world sites across all major sources of electricity, integrating data from published literature, databases, and original data collection. We find a range of LUIE that span four orders of magnitude, from nuclear with 7.1 ha/TWh/y to dedicated biomass at 58,000 ha/TWh/y. By applying these LUIE results to the future electricity portfolios of ten energy scenarios, we conclude that land use could become a significant constraint on deep decarbonization of the power system, yet low-carbon, land-efficient options are available.


A smarter land use option is the European model where they are using a decentralized plan of solar panels on individual homes and businesses. Many European cities, towns and villages are surrounded by valuable farmland, orchards and vineyards so rather than lose crop production they are placing the solar panels on their roof tops.

Of course in the US the large “for profit” utilities won’t like this type of plan.


A smarter land use option is the European model where they are using a decentralized plan of solar panels on individual homes and businesses.

Do you have some numbers on that? For example, this article from 2019 says that
“Germany was the leading solar PV market in Europe in 2018…The country added 2.95 GW of solar capacity…residential systems up to 10 kW contributed nearly 400 MW.”

So new residential was only 0.4/2.95 = 14%

Also, looking to the future, it might make sense to put solar installations in the Saharan desert and send electricity north via undersea cables.


“A smarter land use option is the European model where they are using a decentralized plan of solar panels on individual homes and businesses.”

Depends where you are. Europe is highly built out and most land spoken for. It’s either profitable agriculture land, housing, factories, railroads, roads, etc.

Now in TX, there are millions of acres of essentially desert. Not even suitable for 1 cow grazing over 10 acres. Entire counties with population 5000 or less and 99% barren. Other parts have 1 cow grazing in acres of land it’s so barren. You need 100,000 acres for a herd of cattle.

It makes less sense in TX to spend the money (Lots) on building permits, contracts for very small systems typically 10KW or so, non ideal locations (shadowing, trees), etc, increased insurance rates on those houses, etc, than to install gigawatt solar farm. Probably in half a dozen states in the USA, too. Somehow, places like Death Valley CA would seem to be ideal places as well as much of inland southern CA as you drive through one or two towns in 100 miles of nothing getting out of the state.

“EIA expects another 4.6 GW of solar capacity to be added in 2021 and 5.4 GW in 2022. By the end of 2022, Texas will have 14.9 GW of installed solar capacity.”

"The US installed 17 GW of utility-scale solar capacity during 2021, with 5.9 GW installed only in Q4 2021. Considering new contracts signed during the last quarter, the US solar farm pipeline reached 80.2 GW by the end of 2021.

Considering the current growth rate, the US could add 123 GW of utility-scale solar power by 2027, and 244 GW by 2032. The outlook improves drastically with a 10-year ITC extension, and the growth forecast by 2032 increases to 454 GW."

Now for costs:

The solar industry has also been affected by high inflation, and this is evident when comparing average costs per watt for Q4 2020 and Q4 2021:
Solar Market Segment Q4 2020 Price Q4 2021 Price
Residential $2.97 per watt $3.10 per watt
Commercial $1.36 per watt $1.55 per watt
Utility, fixed tilt $0.80 per watt $0.94 per watt
Utility, single-axis tracking $0.93 per watt $1.06 per watt"…

It would seem obvious that the lowest cost, by a factor of 3, is utility scale production of power. So why should the government be subsidizing home systems instead of pushing for ever increasing utility scale (and community scale) farms?

It’s ridiculous to keep promoting home systems at 3 times the cost when the GOAL is increased solar production of energy. Oh, right…Congress…favored interest groups…and financial hucksters making lots of bucks by selling you home solar power installations with giant government subsidies. Nothing down, you get somewhat lower electric bills, and they laugh all the way to the bank.


Somehow, places like Death Valley CA would seem to be ideal places as well as much of inland southern CA as you drive through one or two towns in 100 miles of nothing getting out of the state.

Rookie mistake.
Death Valley is not really a good location. Solar output drops as temps climb above 80F or 90F. Death Valley is routinely 110F and even 120F in the summer. Ideal is cool-ish and sunny, not hot and sunny. Better is the high desert, more like the nearby Mojave (2000 - 4000 ft)…still hot but not as much as Death Valley which is at (and below) sea level.


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good article here on solar vs agriculture…


Largest solar farm in the US would threaten this endangered species…
The Gemini Solar Project [in Nevada] is expected to generate up to 690 megawatts over the 7,100 acres of federal land, creating an estimated up to 2,000 jobs. The proposed project would be constructed in a high-density tortoise migration corridor, resulting in an estimated loss of up to 215 adult tortoises and 900 or more juveniles. An alternative plan is being proposed to mitigate the impact on the Mojave desert tortoise, but its potential effectiveness is unclear.


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On our latest trip on the Danube there was hardly a village, town, or city that we visited that did not have some panels on roof different top locations. On the outskirts of more settled areas you were more likely to see the land devoted to livestock and crops than massive solar farms. You might say they are ahead of us with regards to the localized farm to table movement.

As European petro energy becomes more probmatic you can expect to see more self-reliance for personal energy needs.


You have neglected to show transmission (cable) costs for carrying power over hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles of power lines, land acquisition costs for rights of way, massive amounts of maintenance for lines and towers, and of course lost revenue in Texas given ERCOTS wonderful grid reliablity record.


Spatial energy density of large-scale electricity generation from power sources worldwide
Noland et al.
This paper introduces the annual energy density concept for electric power generation, which is proposed as an informative metric to capture the impacts on the environmental footprint. Our investigation covers a wide range of sources classified by rated power and compares different regions to establish typical spatial flows of energy and evaluate the corresponding scalability to meet future net-zero emission (NZE) goals. Our analysis is conducted based on publicly available information pertaining to different regions and remote satellite image data.

The results of our systematic analysis indicate that the spatial extent of electric power generation toward 2050 will increase approximately sixfold, from approximately 0.5% to nearly 3.0% of the world’s land area, based on International Energy Agency (IEA) NZE 2050 targets. We investigate the worldwide energy density for ten types of power generation facilities, two involving nonrenewable sources (i.e., nuclear power and natural gas) and eight involving renewable sources (i.e., hydropower, concentrated solar power (CSP), solar photovoltaic (PV) power, onshore wind power, geothermal power, offshore wind power, tidal power, and wave power). In total, our study covers 870 electric power plants worldwide, where not only the energy density but also the resulting land or sea area requirements to power the world are estimated. Based on the provided meta-analysis results, this paper challenges the common notion that solar power is the most energy-dense renewable fuel source by demonstrating that hydropower supersedes solar power in terms of land use in certain regions of the world, depending on the topography.