Renewable Energy And Land Use

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While renewable energy holds the answers to reducing electricity production related greenhouse gas emissions, a sometimes contentious issue is the space major installations occupy.

Our society requires electricity to operate and however that electricity is generated, there will be some environmental impact – the key is to minimise it.

Renewable energy technologies such as wind energy and solar power already go a long way towards that goal and a recent study from the Nature Conservancy could serve as a road-map for renewable energy development to be even more in harmony with nature.

The study, published in the scientific journal PLoS One, says the USA can achieve ambitious wind energy goals while greatly reducing the amount of wind farm development in important wildlife habitats.

With estimates that more than 4.8 million hectares of land and 17,700 kilometres of transmission lines will be needed to meet the Department of Energy’s goal of having 20% of U.S. electricity generated by wind power by 2030, the stakes are high. If approached incorrectly, the utilisation of land on such a large scale could have a marked effect on local wildlife.

However, the Nature Conservancy’s study has found 19 states with the potential to meet wind energy targets on already disturbed lands – such as those affected by agriculture, oil and gas development. Another 9 states are able to meet the target through the utilisation of a combination of disturbed and undisturbed lands. The wind energy potential on the disturbed lands in the19 states alone far exceeds the 20% goal while averting usage of an estimated 2.3 million hectares of undisturbed lands.

More information on the study, entitled “Win-Win for Wind and Wildlife: A Vision to Facilitate Sustainable Development,” can be viewed here.

Another often overlooked way to reduce the need for major renewable energy power station construction exists in our towns and cities.

These areas provide a sea of rooftops on homes and commercial buildings that could be hosting solar panels. With distributed energy generation in the form of small scale home solar power and medium scale solar offering benefits including reduction of infrastructure investment and lessening line loss associated with power transmission, our rooftops are a severely neglected resource that should be better utilised.