NREL report firms up land-use requirements of solar

August, 2013: A PV power plant that provides all of the electricity needs for 1,000 US homes would require 32 acres of land, according to a new study on land use requirement for solar power plants published by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The study, based on data from 72% of all solar power plants installed or under construction in the US, found, among other things, that a large fixed tilt PV plant that generates 1 GWh per year requires, on average, 2.8 acres for the solar panels. This means that a solar power plant that provides all of the electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land.
Meanwhile, small single-axis PV systems require on average 2.9 acres per annual gigawatt-hour – or 3.8 acres when considering all unused area that falls inside the project boundary. CSP plants, on the other hand, require on average 2.7 acres for solar collectors and other equipment per annual gigawatt-hour, and 3.5 acres for all land enclosed within the project boundary.
The study found that land-use requirements for solar power plants have a wide range across technologies. Generation-weighted averages for total area requirements range from about 3 acres/GWh/yr for CSP towers and CPV installations to 5.5 acres/GWh/yr for small 2-axis flat panel PV power plants. Across all solar technologies, the total area generation-weighted average is 3.5 acres/GWh/yr with 40% of power plants within 3 and 4 acres/GWh/yr. For direct-area requirements, the generation-weighted average is 2.9 acres/GWh/yr, with 49% of power plants within 2.5 and 3.5 acres/GWh/yr.
By the third quarter of 2012, the US had deployed more than 2.1 GW of utility-scale solar generation capacity. Another 4.6 GW was under construction. A previous report published by the NREL estimated that if solar energy was to meet 100% of all electricity demand in the US, it would take up to 0.6% of the country’s total area.
© PHOTON International, August 2013
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