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Report: Solar Energy’s Land Use Footprint

Report: Solar Energy's Land Use Footprint

Image source: images.nrel.gov

A new report from the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sheds some light on the land use requirements for solar energy plants, which should help improve the planning and development of solar plants in the US.

While previous attempts to calculate what the land footprint is for solar electric arrays relied on estimates and calculations from modelling, this report is based on actual data from 72% of the solar power plants currently installed or now under construction in the United States.

“Having real data from a majority of the solar plants in the United States will help people make proper comparisons and informed decisions.” – lead author Sean Ong

The report, written by Sean Ong, Clinton Campbell, Robert Margolis, Paul Denholm, and Garvin Heath, all from NREL, adds to data presented by previous studies on the land-use needs for wind power, and will benefit the renewable energy movement by delivering factual data for analysis and modelling. All of the solar power plants used in the study are detailed in an appendix to the report.

“All these land use numbers are being thrown around, but there has been nothing concrete. Now people will actually have numbers to cite when they conduct analyses and publish reports.” – Ong

The report found that a large 1 gigawatt-hour per year photovoltaic plant requires about 2.8 acres for the solar panels, and a solar plant capable of fully powering 1000 homes would need 32 acres of land. Smaller PV systems require an average of 2.9 acres per annual gigawatt-hour, but when accounting for all of the unused area within the project boundary, a total of about 3.8 acres per GWh is needed. Concentrated solar plants need an average of 2.7 acres per GWh, or 3.5 acres when considering the total area inside the project.

The full report can be found here: Land-use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States (PDF).

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