Source: Union of Concerned Scientists
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently published a study showing that wind and solar power will require less than 1% of the land in the Lower 48 (contiguous United States, not including Alaska and Hawaii) to decarbonize the US power sector. In addition, the report indicates that the environmental and public health impacts of renewable energy would be much less harmful than those from fossil fuel extraction, production and burning.
Achieving President Biden's goal of generating 80% zero-carbon electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035 will require a significant increase in wind and solar power, which will need growth rates ranging from 43 to 90 GW per year for solar and 70 to 145 GW per year for wind by the end of this decade. However, NREL's study suggests that it is technically and economically feasible. The study also found that the land area directly occupied by wind and solar infrastructure by 2035 would make up less than 1% of the land in 94% of the country and less than or equal to 7% of the total land area in just three states.
The report highlights that the US government must prioritize constructing long-distance transmission lines to deliver clean energy from wind-rich regions to major load centers. NREL found that total US transmission capacity would have to increase by 1.3 to 2.9 times current levels by 2035, requiring 1,400 to 10,100 miles of new high-capacity lines each year, assuming new construction began in 2026.
The report emphasizes that the land needed for renewable energy is manageable. Specifically, the report shows that the total amount of land required by 2035 to achieve clean power goals with wind, solar and long-distance transmission lines (19,700 sq. mi) would be equivalent to the land area currently occupied by railroads (18,500 sq. mi), less than half the area of active oil and gas leases (40,500 sq. mi), less than one-third of the site currently needed for ethanol production (59,500 sq. mi), and only slightly more than the historically disturbed land area for coal mining (13,100 sq. mi).
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), limiting climate change's worst impacts will require a reduction of roughly 50% of global heat-trapping emissions roughly by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The Biden administration, acknowledging that the US is a leading contributor to carbon emissions, has committed to cutting US emissions 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030. Achieving these goals will depend on the use of renewable energy.
The NREL study shows that wind and solar power require only a tiny amount of land to decarbonize the US power sector. Achieving President Biden's goal of generating 80% zero-carbon electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035 will require unprecedented growth rates in the wind and solar power industry. Still, the study indicates that this is technically and economically feasible. Additionally, constructing long-distance transmission lines will be critical to delivering clean energy from wind-rich regions to major load centers. Finally, the NREL study highlights that renewable energy's environmental and public health impacts will be far less harmful than fossil fuel extraction, production and burning.
The above mentioned article is based on a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which can be accessed here.