Land Required for Renewable Energy


Floating solar farm China

Recently a friend sent me an article from UK academic Steffan Bohm which outlined some of the problems with the renewable energy revolution and pointed out, correctly, that even if we could change overnight to non-polluting energy we will still have the serious global warming problem to solve. I agree with the latter conclusion but see the problems for renewable energy he postulates – if they are problems – as obstacles that have to be overcome.

One problem he outlines is the matter of space and land. Under the heading ‘Land Shortage’ Bohm wrote: “the massive amounts of land required for installing gigawatts of solar and wind power will destroy natural habitats and take away valuable farm land.” This is in part a geographical problem with the shortages and competition for land occurring in the more populated areas of the northern hemisphere including the United Kingdom.

There are many solutions to this and it is not really a problem at all. In Australia about one in ten residences have solar panels on their rooftops and there is still room for massive expansion in this area on both residential and especially commercial premises. The possibility of having a roof made of solar tiles is almost upon us with Tesla manufacturing them in the USA and no doubt there will soon be other competitors on the scene.

As well in the USA there are solar roofs being erected over car parks – mainly to charge electric vehicles. Experiments have been carried out with solar roads in Europe and in China solar farms are being erected on water. The cost of floating solar is almost the same as erection on land once allowance has been made for increased productivity of the cells with the cooling effect of the water.

Whilst large solar farms take up land this is in part a result of historical precedent and the institutional idea that power has to be produced by centralised generators. Even so with these farms the land is mostly poor or offers limited grazing underneath. With solar thermal operations the land chosen is usually the sunniest and driest available hence the utilisation of unproductive desert and drylands for this purpose.

Wind generators also take up land but are far more attractive than that of the Coal Seam Gas miners. Grazing still is possible under the wind generators and rural communities and landowners receive a steady and substantial boost to their income. Wind generators are also being established over water with a recent plan to establish a 250 wind generator farm offshore in South Gippsland. Whilst this is still a positive step it should be noted that local communities are missing out on an extra $2.5 million pa if the generators were built on land.

Land is not a problem or impediment to this surge in renewable energy. We must transition to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible if we are to have any chance of combatting the more serious challenges of global warming.