A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change has found a mix of rooftop and concentrated solar power installed within California’s towns and cities could meet the state’s energy demands five times over.
A mandated target of 33 per cent renewable energy by 2020 has transformed California into America’s solar hotspot.
While even large-scale solar is far more eco-friendly than coal fired powered generation; large areas of California’s desert have been given over to massive utility-scale solar farms – and this has resulted in some problems.
This includes Brightsource Energy’s $2.2 billion 400MW Ivanpah solar field in the Mojave, which, along with several other facilities in the area, became embroiled in legal battles over environmental issues.
These environmental constraints prompted University of Berkely’s (then working out of private research institute, Carnegie) Rebecca R. Hernandez to examine how to more efficiently use already-developed urban land to increase California’s solar power capacity, without encroaching on the natural environment.
“Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact,” Hernandez explained.
The study revealed California contains about 1.6 million acres (6,274 square kilometres) of urban parks and degraded land suitable for developing concentrating solar power. A further 6.7 million acres (27, 286 square kilometres) of land would be compatible for increasing the presence of solar panels on rooftops of parking lots, factories and residential and commercial buildings.
“Because of the value of locating solar power-generating operations near roads and existing transmission lines, our tool identifies potentially compatible sites that are not remote, showing that installations do not necessarily have to be located in deserts,” Hernandez said.
Installing rooftop solar power systems and small-utility-scale photovoltaic systems on lands identified in the study would generate up to 15,000 terawatt hours of solar power, while concentrating solar power technology would provide 6000 terawatt hours.
In a statement, the Carnegie institute praised Hernandez and research.
“The team’s work shows it is possible to substantially increase the fraction of California’s energy needs met by solar, without converting natural habitat and causing adverse environmental impact and without moving solar installations to locations remote from the consumers.”
Rebecca R. Hernandez,
Madison K. Hoffacker
Christopher B. Field
Nature Climate Change