The scale problem for solar and wind generation of electricity

The current eco-fad of trying to produce an ever greater percentage of our electricity from solar and wind has some consequences on land use that are poorly thought out.

Robert Bryce, writing in Energy Tribune, takes out his calculator to see how much land would be used to achieve the green utopia (see his full article here).

The International Energy Agency expects the increase in demand for new electrical generation to be 450 terawatt-hours per year, which was the average annual increase every year from 1985 to 2011 (1 terawatt = 1 million megawatts).

How much solar energy would be needed to meet that demand? Bryce notes, “Germany has more installed solar-energy capacity that any other country, with some 25,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic panels. In 2011, those panels produced 18 terawatt-hours of electricity. Just to keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand, the world would have to install about 25 times as much photovoltaic capacity as Germany’s total installed base, and it would have to do so every year.” Where are we going to put all those panels? Apparently Germany has had enough with their solar experiment and are now building 23 new coal-fired plants.

For wind, the problem is even greater. For instance, Bryce notes that by the end of 2011, the U.S. had 47,000 megawatts of installed wind-energy capacity which produced about 120 terawatt-hours of electricity. “Thus, just to keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand by using wind energy, we would have to install about 3.75 times the current installed wind capacity in the U.S. every year.”

So how much land would be required for wind generation to meet the annual increase in demand? Bryce says that “The power density of wind energy is roughly two watts per square meter or about five megawatts per square mile. Therefore, just to keep up with the growth in global electricity demand by using wind energy alone, the global wind industry will need to cover a land area of some 35,000 square miles — about the size of Indiana — with wind turbines. And it will have to do so every year.”

Will those 35,000 square miles be carved out of natural habitat every year? Fossil fuel and nuclear plant generation have a much smaller footprint.

In the U.S., as the Department of the Interior designates more and more land suitable for solar, environmental groups have howled about the potential destruction of habitat for animals such as the desert tortoise.

As more and more wind farms are established, people are realizing the costs, not just for electricity, but for health and habitat as well as the scenery. Bryce reports that in Europe alone, there are now more than 500 anti-wind groups.


Health Hazards of Wind Turbines

Windsmills are killing our birds

Wind Turbines Spread While Bats Take Beating

Bats, Birds, and Blades

Wind farms raise local and regional temperatures



One comment

  1. The green energy boom, like most
    fads, will fade with time. European
    countries, drowning in debt and strapped for cash, already are moving away from
    renewable sources of electric power. The
    Germans, after 20 years of massive government support (about $1/2 trillion) for
    solar and other renewables with little to show in the way of economic or
    environmental gains, are phasing out solar subsidies over the next 5 years. In 2008 alone the Germans found that the price
    mark-up attributable to subsidized green electricity was about 2.2 cents US per
    kWh, which would amount to an average 19.4% increase in a US consumer’s
    electric bill; per worker subsidies in the solar industry run as high as $240,000 US; and
    those green jobs disappear soon as government support is terminated. Spain has also slashed solar subsidies
    by up to 45%. Italy’s dream of green power also has dissolved along with the
    country’s solvency, the government expected to eliminate its wind and solar
    loans program. (Source: Institute for Energy
    Research). Will we learn from the Europeans’ mistake?

Comments are closed.