The population of California is approaching 40 million, and despite the state’s reputation for overpriced real estate and choking traffic, about 90% of the state’s people live only 10% of the land. For those who see the state as a bellwether of clean energy’s future, it is easy to point out vast empty swaths of land, such as the Mojave Desert. Installations such as the massive 250 MW concentrated solar power plant (CSP) outside of Hinkley, California, come to mind.
But regions such as the Mojave post their own challenges, such as their remote locations from the state’s grid and their fragile ecosystems. A Stanford University-led study in the science journal Nature, however, suggests areas already developed in California offer an abundance of capacity for solar that could power the Golden State many times over.
According to the study, the state’s “built environment” offers plenty of space for small- and utility-scale solar, from rooftop solar systems to large CSP installations. Areas including brownfield sites, warehouse rooftops, and industrial districts together could host enough solar power facilities to generate anywhere from 17,000 to 21,000 TWh of CSP and photovoltaic (PV) power combined. That sum could provide anywhere from three to five times the amount of energy California currently requires.
For solar power advocates, the Stanford study confirms what many have said all along. It makes logical sense to build PV and CSP installations where development has already taken place and the environmental impact would be minimal. Old industrial and warehouse districts of San Joaquin Valley cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield; the sprawling high-tech complexes in Silicon Valley; and transport hubs such as airports and rail depots offer plenty of space in a state where the price of land is at a premium and environmental protections are amongst the strictest in the United States. Counties and cities in California looking for ways to transform old brownfield and industrial areas could learn a lot from this study as they evaluate the potential for solar in the near future.
Image Credit: FirstCultural
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