NEWS Land use for sustainable energy

Fea­tured in the Wash­ing­ton Post, KCET​.org, ECN​mag​.com, Grist​.org, Com​put​er​World​.org, and Green­Tech­Me­dia, and #1 “Trend­ing Online” and “Most Read” Arti­cle in Nature Cli­mate Change

Wash­ing­ton, D.C.— In the face of global cli­mate change, increas­ing the use of renew­able energy resources is one of the most urgent chal­lenges fac­ing the world. Fur­ther devel­op­ment of one resource, solar energy, is com­pli­cated by the need to find space Mapfor solar power-​​generating equip­ment with­out sig­nif­i­cantly alter­ing the sur­round­ing environment.

New work from Carnegie’s Dr. Rebecca R. Her­nan­dez (now at Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berkley), Madi­son K. Hof­facker, and Dr. Christo­pher B. Field found that the amount of energy that could be gen­er­ated from solar equip­ment con­structed on and around exist­ing infra­struc­ture in Cal­i­for­nia would exceed the state’s demand by up to five times. It is pub­lished by Nature Cli­mate Change.

Inte­grat­ing solar facil­i­ties into the urban and sub­ur­ban envi­ron­ment causes the least amount of land-​​cover change and the low­est envi­ron­men­tal impact,” Her­nan­dez explained.

Just over 8 per­cent of all of the ter­res­trial sur­faces in Cal­i­for­nia have been devel­oped by humans—from cities and build­ings to park spaces. Res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial rooftops present plenty of oppor­tu­nity for power gen­er­a­tion through small– and utility-​​scale solar power instal­la­tions. Other com­pat­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ties are avail­able in open urban spaces such as parks.

Like­wise, there is oppor­tu­nity for addi­tional solar con­struc­tion in unde­vel­oped sites that are not eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive or fed­er­ally pro­tected, such as degraded lands.

Because of the value of locat­ing solar power-​​generating oper­a­tions near roads and exist­ing trans­mis­sion lines, our tool iden­ti­fies poten­tially com­pat­i­ble sites that are not remote, show­ing that instal­la­tions do not nec­es­sar­ily have to be located in deserts,” Her­nan­dez said.

This study included two kinds of solar tech­nolo­gies, pho­to­voltaics, which use semi­con­duc­tors and are sim­i­lar to the solar pan­els found in con­sumer elec­tron­ics, and con­cen­trat­ing solar power, which uses enor­mous curved mir­rors to focus the sun’s rays. A mix of both options would be pos­si­ble, as best suits each par­tic­u­lar area of instal­la­tion, whether it is on a rooftop, in a park, on degraded lands, or any­where else deemed com­pat­i­ble or poten­tially com­pat­i­ble. They found that small– and utility-​​scale solar power could gen­er­ate up to 15,000 terawatt-​​hours of energy per year using pho­to­voltaic tech­nol­ogy and 6,000 terrawatt-​​hours of energy per year using con­cen­trat­ing solar power technology.

Over­all the team found that Cal­i­for­nia has about 6.7 mil­lion acres (27, 286 square kilo­me­ters) of land that is com­pat­i­ble for pho­to­voltaic solar con­struc­tion and about 1.6 mil­lion acres (6,274 square kilo­me­ters) com­pat­i­ble for con­cen­trat­ing solar power. There is also an addi­tional 13.8 mil­lion acres (55,733 square kilo­me­ters) that is poten­tially com­pat­i­ble for pho­to­voltaic solar energy devel­op­ment with min­i­mal envi­ron­men­tal impact and 6.7 mil­lion acres (27,215 square kilo­me­ters) also poten­tially com­pat­i­ble for con­cen­trat­ing solar power development.

The team’s work shows it is pos­si­ble to sub­stan­tially increase the frac­tion of California’s energy needs met by solar, with­out con­vert­ing nat­ural habi­tat and caus­ing adverse envi­ron­men­tal impact and with­out mov­ing solar instal­la­tions to loca­tions remote from the consumers.

As Cal­i­for­nia works to meet require­ments that 33 per­cent of retail elec­tric­ity be pro­vided by renew­able sources by 2020 and that greenhouse-​​gas emis­sions be 80 per­cent below 1990 lev­els by 2050, our research can help pol­i­cy­mak­ers, devel­op­ers, and energy stake­hold­ers make informed deci­sions,” said Field, direc­tor of Carnegie’s Depart­ment of Global Ecol­ogy. “Fur­ther­more, our find­ings have impli­ca­tions for other states and coun­tries with sim­i­larly pre­cious envi­ron­men­tal resources and infra­struc­tural constraints.”

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