New Hampshire, USA — New statistics from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reveal exactly how much land is needed to site a solar plant of various sizes and technologies, based on actual plants and projects and not models or projections. The takeway: your mileage may vary.
NREL’s previous estimates and calculations of solar energy’s land-use requirements, published several years ago, suggested that it could meet the U.S.’ total electric demand (circa 2005 levels) with a footprint of about 0.6 percent of the nation’s total land area, or somewhere around 14-15 million acres.
Now, though, NREL has pooled data from more than two-thirds (72 percent) of solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal (CSP) power plants already installed or being built across the country, as of 3Q12 data from SEIA: 2.1 GW (AC) of generation capacity and 4.6 GW (AC) under construction. Not surprisingly, they determined the required footprint varies widely depending what solar energy technology is applied, weighing between and how one calculates the “direct impact” (physical infrastructure development) vs. “total” area impacted including the surrounding land.