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Renewable Energy Land Requirements To Power US With Solar

Some folks believe renewable energy land requirements are enormous when it comes to powering homes with solar electricity. But when Tesla Energy announced it had created one of the world’s cheapest home batteries, the Powerwall, designed to be paired with a home’s solar panel electricity generators, a new factor was added to the space calculation: the wall.

The Tesla Energy announcement got a number of people thinking about the scale of land needed to make solar a viable alternative energy option.

Tesla’s description of the Powerwall makes no bones about its functionality:

Powerwall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. It also fortifies your home against power outages by providing a backup electricity supply. Automated, compact and simple to install, Powerwall offers independence from the utility grid and the security of an emergency backup.

Okay. So much for all the good news about the evolution of solar technologies, especially when it involves the huge issue of energy storage. But what about all the land needed to spur solar energy into more of a mainstream option in addressing the challenges of climate change?

In a Fusion article, Elon Musk pointed out very little land is needed to get rid of all fossil fuel electricity generation in the United States. “It’s really not much,” Elon Musk said. “Most if it will be on rooftops. Not much land is required at all, if you happen to count rooftop solar panels that happen to be generating clean, non-fossil fuel electricity.”

Now blend rooftops with existing walls in the renewable energy mixing bowl, and the amount of space required continues to be beautifully minimal, as those particular spaces for the rooftop and walls are already being used for other essential purposes, such as keeping the structure standing and keeping the rain outside.

One of the first groups to raise this question land requirements for solar energy and provide a useful map, was the Land Art Generator Initiative, which uses art to promote clean energy. In 2009, they calculated that we’d only only have to cover an area a bit bigger than California with solar panels to power the entire world with solar energy.

Land art AreaRequired1000

And just to power the United States? A few counties in Texas.

That represents about 160 million Powerwalls, according to Musk. While large, such a number is realistically scalable, especially so if the drive to address climate change grows.

“The entire night, everything you are experiencing is stored sunlight, Musk said.

According to the US Department of Energy (Energy Information Administration), the world consumption of energy in all of its forms (barrels of petroleum, cubic meters of natural gas, watts of hydro power, etc.) is projected to reach 678 quadrillion Btu (or 715 exajoules) by 2030.

“That may seem like an insane number,” but we have done things like this before, he said. It would take only a couple of years of replicating the rate of new cars and trucks that are swapped into the market each year, about 100 million.

In the face of climate change as we now know it (adding scornful epithets for naysayers) such visionary thinking is remarkably welcome, an about-face from how our world leaders have addressed the realities of carbon and methane emissions.

According to the EIA, renewable energy sources now represent the fastest-growing energy source for world electricity generation, increasing by an average of 2.9% per year from 2006 to 2030. Presently, the majority of solar electricity does not come from rooftop panels. Much of the growth is in hydroelectric power and wind power. Of the 3.3 trillion kilowatt hours of new renewable generation added over the projection period, 1.8 trillion kilowatt hours (54%) is attributed to hydroelectric power and 1.1 trillion kilowatt hours (33%) to wind power.

Here the land requirements for generating renewable electricity increases. Think of the large acreage required to generate grid-fed electricity from towering wind turbines.

The EIA adds, “Other than hydroelectric power, most renewable technologies are not able to compete economically with fossil fuels over the projection period, except in a limited number of niche markets. Government policies and incentives typically are the primary drivers for the construction of renewable generation facilities.”

Hopefully this will change as storage options grow and become more cost-effective and size-friendly, like the Powerwall from Tesla Energy.


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Written By

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.


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