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Does Solar Energy Require Too Much Land?


Solar energy naysayers often cite the land requirements that come with solar energy as one of its drawbacks. They argue that too much land is required for solar energy to be feasible. Is it true? Well, let’s take a look.
 

The Great Solar Debate
By Gabriel Toth
 
Does Solar Energy Require Too Much Land?
Solar energy naysayers often cite the land requirements that come with solar energy as one of its drawbacks. They argue that too much land is required for solar energy to be feasible. Is it true? Well, let’s take a look.
 
Out of all renewable energy sources, solar energy has the greatest power density. This means that it takes up less space than other sources to generate the same amount of electricity. In fact, according to the Land Art Generator Initiative, by 2030 it will take only 191,817 square miles of land to power the entire world with solar energy. This may sound like a lot, but it’s just two pieces of land roughly the size of Michigan that, if covered north to south in solar panels, would power the entire planet with clean energy. Such a land requirement is made all the more reasonable when one considers how solar power takes advantage of land that is already in use. Solar panels and solar shingles are able to garner the sun’s energy simply by being mounted on existing buildings, thus avoiding the need to take up excess land. This way, if solar panels were atop enough of the world’s buildings, the world could ideally be powered by solar energy without taking up very much open land at all.
 
On paper, solar energy’s power density is not quite at the level of most fossil fuels. However, power density fails to take into account the land that is used to extract fossil fuels and the destruction of natural habitats that results. Therefore, the issue of power density is not quite as black and white as it may seem. At any rate, considering the advancements in solar panel technology over the years (4% efficiency in 1954 to 24.1% efficiency in commercial applications today), there will likely be a day, sooner rather than later, where solar energy’s power density is indisputably greater than that of fossil fuels, no matter how it is measured. Until that day, and even when that day comes, we can always avoid taking up open land by simply mounting panels on top of existing buildings.
 
I hope this was another enjoyable and educational edition of the Great Solar Debate.  Be sure to join us next time, where we’ll discuss solar subsidies.
 

 

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