Energy transition: The land use conundrum

by Judith Curry

Does our future hold a plethora of wind turbines, solar farms, and transmission lines covering an ever-growing fraction of the planet’s surface as energy demand increases?  The output of farmland and forests being burned to provide power?

The amount of land required for renewable energy is an issue of growing concern that has received surprisingly little attention.  The current global energy system exists on a relatively small land footprint (only 0.4 percent of ice-free land), which is two orders of magnitude less than the area utilized by agriculture.[i] Plans for an entirely renewable energy system for the globe will very substantially increase the amount of land use for energy production, particularly with growing energy consumption and the widespread electrification of heating, transportation and industry.

The land footprint of energy systems displaces natural ecosystems, leads to land degradation, and creates trade-offs for food production, urban development, and conservation. In densely populated countries such as Japan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, South Korea, India, Netherlands, Belgium, Bahrain and Israel, there simply isn’t sufficient land to support a majority of the energy supply coming from renewables.  Emerging economies face larger challenges with more dynamic land use in the face of urbanization, industrialization and agriculture.

A recent article calculated the land-use intensity of energy (LUIE) from actual data for all major sources of electricity.

Land-Use Intensity of Electricity Production and Tomorrow’s Energy Landscape

by Jessical Lovering, Marian Swain, Linus Blomqvist, Rebecca Hernandez


Abstract.  The global energy system has a relatively small land footprint at present, comprising just 0.4% of ice-free land. This pales in comparison to agricultural land use– 30–38% of ice-free land–yet future low-carbon energy systems that shift to more extensive technologies could dramatically alter landscapes around the globe. The challenge is more acute given the projected doubling of global energy consumption by 2050 and widespread electrification of transportation and industry. Yet unlike greenhouse gas emissions, land use intensity of energy has been rarely studied in a rigorous way. Here we calculate land-use intensity of energy (LUIE) for real-world sites across all major sources of electricity, integrating data from published literature, databases, and original data collection. We find a range of LUIE that span four orders of magnitude, from nuclear with 7.1 ha/TWh/y to dedicated biomass at 58,000 ha/TWh/y. By applying these LUIE results to the future electricity portfolios of ten energy scenarios, we conclude that land use could become a significant constraint on deep decarbonization of the power system, yet low-carbon, land-efficient options are available.

The calculated LUIE values include both land used for actual energy generation as well as land used for fuel sourcing.  The study found a range of LUIE values that spanned 4 orders of magnitude, from the lowest value for nuclear to the highest value for dedicated biomass.  Relative to the LUIE value for natural gas, the sources with lower values of LUIE are nuclear, geothermal, rooftop solar and residue biomass.  Evaluating the LUIE for wind power is complicated the fact that the land footprint of an individual wind turbine is relatively small; however, the overall footprint of a wind farm is not just the sum of the land footprints of individual turbines, but rather the area within the perimeter of the wind farm.  Wind turbines that are built on degraded, contaminated, otherwise unusable land or on top of agricultural land aren’t competing with other uses for that land and don’t unduly interfere with surface ecosystems.  The problem is that such locations are far from population centers where the bulk of the energy is needed.  Offshore wind helps with the land use issue (although there are competing uses of coastal waters) and also places wind farms in closer proximity to coastal population centers.

The land-use implications of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for fossil- or biomass-fueled power plants were estimated to increase the land use footprint by 40 percent compared to a plant without CCS.

In the US, the onshore wind industry is facing challenges from rural landowners who don’t want wind turbines nearby – they are concerned about noise, declining property values and destruction of views.  Over the past eight years, 328 wind farm proposals have been rejected in the US. Transmission and renewable energy projects are being blocked across the country by landowners, consumer and environmental groups.

NIMBY-ism at its finest.  And the U.S. is a country with relatively low population density overall, although there are regions, mostly along the coasts, with very high population density


Mistaken ideas about carbon accounting, political pressures and short-sighted economics are perpetuating the use of biofuels. Biofuels have played a major role in global food crises in 2008, 2011 and 2022.  In 2022, global food insecurity hit record highs. Nevertheless, approximately 10 percent of the world’s grains are being turned into biofuels. Palm and soy oil from Indonesia and South America are also being burned for fuel and it is estimated that 58 percent of rapeseed oil in Europe is burned for fuel, despite soaring prices for cooking oil.  The European Union plans to allocate one-fifth of Europe’s cropland to producing fuels for bioenergy and also plans a four-fold increase of wood imports to burn for energy equivalent to approximately 40 percent of Canada’s (the world’s largest exporter) annual wood harvest.

The US uses about 40 percent of its annual corn crop grown on tens of millions of acres of cropland for ethanol that comprises only about 10 percent US transportation fuel.  It has been estimated that the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of ethanol are no less than those of gasoline, and likely greater.  Corn ethanol has exacerbated environmental problems such as soil erosion and poor water quality, contributing to the degradation of agricultural land that would be more importantly used for food production. If the crops for biofuels are irrigated, this can exacerbate water supply issues during droughts. The net effect of biofuels is lifecycle emissions that can be worse than the displaced fossil fuels, exacerbated food shortages and degraded farmland.


It is viable and affordable to take wind and solar to about 30 percent of a power system, but unless there is hydropower backup, energy storage or remote transmission capability, the cost profile for additional wind and solar becomes increasingly unfavorable and there are increasingly adverse consequences for electric power system reliability and performance.

Wind farms are a viable solution where land and coastal use considerations permit.  Rooftop solar is a good solution and supports some level of local autonomy.  However, wind and solar will probably become less competitive as new and better technologies become available in the coming decades.  I don’t see a role for biofuels in the future, where other power sources are available.

In the coming decades, I suspect that land use issues will become more important than CO2 emissions in determining the sources of electric power.

122 responses to “Energy transition: The land use conundrum

  1. I suspect long before land availability becomes an issue for most countries other resource limits will be hit.

    In Spain, rural areas are quite depopulated, and land in the semi-arid parts is not very productive for agriculture. There’s plenty of space for solar, and it is one of the few countries in Europe where solar makes sense. Despite a decent amount of solar production (11,000 MW installed capacity in 2019) electricity rates have been on an increasing trend for over a decade, before the current energy crisis. Consequently electricity use per capita has been going down. When I hear about the energy transition I laugh. We seem to be transitioning at a slow pace toward wood fires by rubbing two sticks.

    • Douglas Proctor

      You quote “installed capacity”. I sure wish everyone, especially the media, stopped using this term, or at least added actual performance to the discussion. Worldwide wind and solar only supply 21 to 26% of their “installed capacity “.

      Politicians and renewable activists love to say the installed capacity can power, say, 20,000 homes, whereas the actual output is about 5,200 homes …. which is also misleading as those 20,000 homes may be supplied by renewable power … but only for 6h 15 min of an average day!

      Renewables require other sources of dispatchable power, which is only natural gas unless you have other sources spinning uselessly, just in case they are needed. That’s okay but it tells you 100% wind and solar aims are risible lies.

      Renewables are a good idea but talking about installed capacity is misleading. The average reader thinks that’s the 24/7 output. He would be chagrined to understand he was bamboozled by a factor of four.

      • Installed capacity allows to compare the investment in solar energy between countries, as solar irradiation is very different between countries. Spain gets more bang for her buck in solar than most European countries. Right now there is a rush to install rooftop panels.

      • Installed capacity has to be compared by the ‘Planned Load Factor’ for any serious energy planning.

        The other factor to be seriously considered is ‘Planned outage’ and more so ‘Unplanned outage’. Relevant to solar panels there are several pitfalls which seem to be rarely considered. There has been the news of a solar system catastrophic failure due to large hail. Other sources of failure are the electrics in the conversion. Even more for roof top panels, the structural support, the wrong mix of metals that change the panels into real hazard in a strong wind. In may cases I see it is only ‘Politics and material sales profit’ that matter and no further consideration.

        Life cycle gains need to be realised throughout the life cycle. Any unplanned failure likely wipes out all.

        Another point I have not heard of at all. Solar panels were initially tested in my country where solar is strong. That was in the sixties of the last century. They were found to deteriorate very fast in strong sunlight. Any new info on that?

      • Might make more sense to use expected capability. Basically how much energy the machine can realistically produce. Suggest: nameplate capacity*(hours in a year)*(average likely megawatt output for summer, fall, winter, spring)/4*(expected factor for being offline for maintenance). Not really that hard to come up with a hand-grenade comparison.

        For instance, average wind speed is not that difficult to find for a location, as is ambient temperature (affects thermal machines), solar incidence, cloud cover, typical elevation (affects gas turbines). Nature of assessment comparison does not require that much precision.

        The assessment will show that the expected capability of wind & solar is low while nuclear is very good. Does this mean solar and wind should not be deployed. No, just means low capability factors need to be properly mitigated when developing the economics of energy production. On the flip side, high capability may be expensive and that also needs to be addressed with an economic assessment of options.

      • Re installed capacity, and Mike Keller’s answer:

        > Might make more sense to use expected capability. Basically how much energy the machine can realistically produce. Suggest: nameplate capacity*(hours in a year)*(average likely megawatt output for summer, fall, winter, spring)/4*(expected factor for being offline for maintenance).

        This still seems like the wrong calculation. It’s what would matter if you were producing something which could be stored (e.g. if some oil well technology produced 4x the flow rate, but only ran 8 hours a day, that would be great, 4/3 the output). For something that cannot be stored, the timing of intermittent output matters a lot.

        One way to get a number would be to average the spot auction price of electricity at the times your source produces. This would give some indication of whether it’s producing power at useful times. Have never seen this done, but have (for example) heard of the windiest times driving the auction price to zero — lots of production, but worthless, because of all the other producers.

        However, this tells you about the effect of adding one more source to today’s network. With many more renewable sources, presumably the variance in prices will be much higher than today.

    • ‘It is viable and affordable to take wind and solar to about 30 percent of a power system…’ JC

      Let’s do it until we need glasses – or until technology matures enough to change the equation.

    • “I suspect long before land availability becomes an issue for most countries other resource limits will be hit.”

      “Bear in mind that the Netherlands population of 17 million,
      is only 5% of the U.S. population, and 1% of China’s. And
      that this study excludes the use of these metals for any
      other industrial purposes. The Netherlands’ future renewable energy policy needs for each of these metals is between 2x and 12x total global production.”

      Pages 31-32 of the linked report by Horizon Kinetics gives a lot of color to that argument:

      • Another report for the Netherlands

        ‘Metal Demand for Renewable Electricity Generation in the Netherlands’

        “If overall demand is large enough – as seems likely in a global energy transition – then many materials would become scarce simultaneously”

        “To reach renewable energy production targets the Netherlands requires a significant percentage of the annual production of five specific critical minerals. The case of the Netherlands is illustrative for other countries……As future demand for these metals exceeds expected supply, the energy transition becomes a vulnerable process.”

        “The current global supply of several critical metals is insufficient to transition to a renewable energy system……global production of some metals needs to grow at least twelve fold compared to today’s ouput Specifically demand for neodymium, terbium, indium, dysprosium and praseodymium stands out. This calculation does not include the demand for these specific metals in other applications, such as EVs or consumer electronics”

        As you say the population of the Netherlands is only 17m yet this report finds they will face considerable difficulties in reaching its renewable energy production targets.

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  3. Dr. Deanster

    Yep. Land use and the impact on the land environment is the issue nobody wants to talk about.

    From a ‘global warming” perspective, it would make more sense to me to build offshore solar farms. They block SWR from being absorbed and stored in the ocean, generate electricity, and if oil platforms are any indication, offshore solar farms would serve as a boon to marine life.

  4. Grahame Bennett

    All wind farms should be scrapped.there is more potential with tidal power.
    Emission free diesel is the answer and hydrogen power.

    • “there is more potential with tidal power.”

      And you say that because you know or you heard?

      The Swansea tidal project was not viable.

      “the Swansea project produces a tenth of the power of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant for twice the price. And even if you object to nuclear power, a much larger wind farm in the Severn Estuary or the Bristol Channel could generate twice the power for half the price.”

      This is at one of the places in the world with strongest tides. Tides are much weaker at most places. My book has a figure with tidal strength now and at the Last Glacial Maximum. Tidal energy will never take off in the near future. Maybe during the next glacial.

    • Hydrogen has a very wide range of explosion limits and burns with an invisible flame. It is difficult to keep in a container and forms cracks in steel. It is very dicey to handle and contain.

      I saw where Bill Gates recommends methanol for ship fuel. Can’t wait to see the fish kill when that gets loose in the ocean, river, or lake. It is highly toxic.

      Some people just don’t know when they have it good, fuel-wise.

      • Also, unlike oil which tends to float on the surface of water, methanol is thoroughly water soluble. It should be a very efficient fish poison.

      • Jeremy Poynton

        “I saw where Bill Gates recommends methanol for ship fuel. Can’t wait to see the fish kill when that gets loose in the ocean, river, or lake. It is highly toxic.”

        Like Gates on the loose…

    • Not in Kansas. Ocean has been gone for millions of years.

  5. Has there been any studies done on the land use impact of the rare earth metals that are mined to many of the batteries and other components used in electric cars and other things?

  6. This is included in their land use estimates, but broader pollution related issues are subject for a future post

  7. The comments on biofuels are limited to 1st generation that directly compete with food.

    We need to get use to the idea that electricity (even with demand side management) won’t get anywhere near to replacing all fossil fuels (aka net zero energy emissions) and the bioeconomy incl gen2 biofuels and energy crops will be a major part of our future.

  8. The worm is turning. Nuclear is in ascent. Again …

    Why even environmentalists are supporting nuclear power again.
    Can Japan revive nuclear power?
    Nuclear power’s having a resurgence, thanks to global energy crisis
    Germany, Japan rethink nuclear power phaseout after war in Ukraine

    Google News

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  10. So, ‘renewables’ being all that is needed as a thought that should guide All of humanity’s future actions turns out to be horse and buggy thinking in the nuclear age.

  11. Bill Fabrizio

    I would think intuitively any discussion of LUIE should include plants that burn trash/waste for electricity, as they would have the best land score of any energy producer. They either keep land from being used as land fill sites or they can return acreage from existing landfill sites to productive uses. Not to mention ocean dumping …

  12. Geoff Sherrington

    Judith and others,
    People in different countries have different perspectives on this. India is not the same as Germany.
    What, in your view, is the single, most likely argument that will succeed in reversing this climate change economic insanity in the US, including this topic of land use change as a contender?
    Geoff S

    • There is no single argument, nor should there be. There are several things that would need to happen.
      1) Elections – Regardless of what you may read, there is no sure thing this November, nor in 2024.
      2) Scientific Community – Much like the general populace, the majority of the scientific community just accepts the prevailing view. More work needs to be done questioning that view.
      3) Environmentalists – The true ecologists amongst them have been beaten/badgered by those who wield the single issue sword. There is no reality that has no trade-offs.
      4) Economics – When rising energy prices reach the point of demand destruction, not just of energy but commodities in general, the resulting severe recession (or depression) will have an affect on numbers 1, 2 & 3 above. This winter in the NH will be interesting.

      • 1) So long as post-constitutional Executive Orders continue to be SOP, election results can make big swings in policies. In the USA to get to firm-fixed codification, requires majorities in both the House and Senate, with veto-proof majority in the Senate if the President does not sign.

        2) I do not see that the Climate Science(tm) community will change. The general populace, on the other hand, have almost no knowledge of what’s actually going on in The Science(tm). Many just hear the three-word bumper-sticker versions. A minority hears the dis/mis-information supplied by NPR and public press/media. Already, any and all without exception, ‘extreme’ weather events are automatically assigned to Climate Change.

        4) Yep. That plus large numbers of massive blackouts. And, yes, large numbers of people are potentially facing very significant financial impacts this winter here in the USA. I’m thinking that energy-cost bailouts are already being discussed in D.C.

      • Californians are posting on social media the notices they got to avoid charging electric cars and noting this is the day after the state announced they would require electric cars.

        People in Europe are posting photos of their power bills (and wow!)

        People assume their government is competent and not radical until proven otherwise. This year has proven otherwise and ain’t over yet.

  13. Wind and solar seem very similar to governments flying about on private jets.
    A completely unnecessary activity associated with the corruption of governments.
    Solar energy which was designed to be used in space, does work in space.
    But at the moment, collecting solar energy in space and transmitting the energy to Earth surface is not viable.
    So collecting solar energy on Earth surface is not viable way to get electrical power, nor is collecting solar energy in Earth orbits
    and transmitting it to Earth surface.
    But I think it’s interesting to compare them. Or which is the least non-viable solution.
    The main reason space solar is non viable is the high launch cost. And launch cost have been lowering, but it is still no where near low enough.
    One could have ways lower launch costs, but just focusing on that, would not work.
    But there would be pathway, by simply push something most governments are already doing, which efforts related to exploration and possible use of our Moon.
    And the money involved compared the money wasted on solar wind energy is tiny portion.
    The US, China, India, Europe, Japan, and others are planning various things related to lunar exploration, but they are doing slowly and not spending much money on it.
    There has been interested interest in exploring the Moon, due to the Moon possibly having mineable water.
    The idea that governments would actually mine the Moon is roughly a very stupid idea, but if it’s discovered there is mineable lunar water, the private sector could mine lunar water and make rocket fuel. And to do that, one would need an electrical market on the Moon- which could be solar or nuclear power.
    So, these countries seem to working towards having governmental bases on the Moon- which doesn’t make a lot sense unless one can make cheap rocket fuel on the Moon.
    Anyhow, we have wasted decades not determining whether or not
    there is Mineable water on the Moon. After determining whether there is mineable lunar water, NASA and China are interested in exploring Mars.
    Of course Elon Musk wants to lower launch cost, a lot, in order to
    have settlements on Mars. And it would seem like a good idea to explore Mars, before trying to a city on Mars.
    So, NASA has wasting it’s time, imagining it’s going to explore Mars for several decades, but new idea, is to explore the Moon first, and then explore Mars.
    If you have lunar water mining and a city on Mars, you will shortly
    get solar energy from space, beamed to Earth. But Musk might be beaming solar energy from Mars orbit to Mars surface, before
    it happens with Earth.
    So, if govt could hurry up a bit, we might get solar energy from space, a decade quicker.

  14. I often say; “Anyone who thinks renewables will meet our future energy needs has not done their sums.”

    Years ago I did a back of the envelope calculation based on our energy use in 2010. At the time, around 10% of the worlds population was using 90% of the worlds energy. If energy use was to be distributed equally based on the average consumption by 2050 we would need to produce 6 times more energy in than we did in 2010. And that was not including transport that at the time was dependent on fossil fuels. If we decarbonise transport…well…I don’t know how to begin to work that out. So my estimate of “6 times” is likely a massive underestimate. It assumes that high users use less as low users catch up.

    There is no way renewable energy is able to produce the energy we need without a massive impact to the environment, which is why modern small scale nuclear- esp fusion, is wagon I have hitched myself to. Fortunately progress has been very good in recent years. Helion seemingly will be the first off the block as they are building their first commercial prototype now, and LPP Focus Fusion (my favourite project) possibly shortly behind.

  15. I agree – very much, that without something dramatic in storage, renewables clearly cannot be the dominant energy source. It is blindingly obvious. As obvious that nuclear has to be given a second chance – given that it’s first chance was killed off based on many myths and falsehoods. A portend of the cancel culture to come.

    But there is some either/or thinking going on here with regards land use. It isn’t a case of agricultural or solar. You can easily and economically have both. (google agrovoltaics). Lots of crops, especially in sunny places grow better in the shade of panels. And done right, grazing also works well. According to a study by the Fraunhofer institute, – from memory, a piece of land can get maybe 80% of the solar output compared to maximum installation density, but also with some crops 110% of the agricultural profitability. Even if it was 80% of both it would be a no brainer. And something they don’t really mention is that if you were to stick some wind turbines on there too, you get solar, wind and food from the same patch.

  16. Curious George

    These “global land use percentage” studies make little practical sense. The Sahara Desert is as large as continental United States. Very promising for solar electricity generation, but there are no consumers there. And .. can solar panels withstand a sonic boom?

    • I know a couple of house-flippers. They’re all in on finding cheap farmland they can turn into “solar farms.” As long as the land is along the corridor slated for it, the subsidies and guarantees are really good. And every time it happens, the world gets a little less food. For electricity that’s only available from noon to 5.

  17. “It is viable and affordable to take wind and solar to about 30 percent of a power system…”

    Let’s make this a bit more accurate: It is viable, but a diversion of spending from more important needs, to take wind and solar to about 30% of a power system, however it is entirely unnecessary to do so even when you assume high feedback to CO2 emissions.

  18. Where’s a nuclear plant when the storm comes?

    In May 2019, the solar industry was faced with a disaster unlike anything ever seen before, when a massive hailstorm passed through West Texas. In the path of the storm sat 174 Power Global’s 178 MW Midway Solar Project, bolted to the ground and pointed to the sky on 1,500 acres near Midland.

    Once the storm had passed, the industry learned that it had left behind the largest weather-related single-project loss in its history. More than 400,000 of the plant’s 685,000 Hanwha Q cell modules were damaged or destroyed; insurance losses totaled $70 million, and most everyone involved endured at least a few sleepless nights.

    • “What’s more, storms in Texas can generate hail much larger than the 25mm testing standard. ”

      CNN Madrid Spain “Fist-sized hailstones up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) in diameter rained down on Tuesday “. Not only in Texas.

      Then again, insurance covers the cost of damaged plant. It does not cover lost output and any liability resulting from that. Plant life-cycle costs are set against output, and usually include planned outage, but not the ‘High Impact Low Probability (which may not be so low its beginning to seem) costs.

      • To say that insurance “covers” the loss does not mean the loss isn’t there. Insurance companies make a profit, therefore it stands to reason their product also adds more cost with insurance than without. The shell game doesn’t work after all, to no ones surprise.

    • The nuclear plant in Kansas has not been shutdown by hail or tornados.
      By the way, easy too identify cars from Western Kansas – have large hail dents. Can also look at county location identifier on license plate.

  19. The current global energy system exists on a relatively small land footprint (only 0.4 percent of ice-free land), …

    I think there’s a lot of better qualifiers of the suitability of land for an energy system than whether it’s ice-free. The main one is probably proximity. And why does land have to be ice-free for an energy system? How about putting water cooled nuclear reactors in Antarctica where mile plus thick ice sheets could provide presumably plentiful clean water for cooling and meltdown prevention. They could be dedicated to synthesizing hydrocarbons in a Net Zero carbon cycle. Perhaps the ice in the ice sheets could be fashioned into giant barges and shipped as sources of fresh water.

  20. Planningengineer

    It’s interesting to view the land use needs of renewable energy compared to waste disposal. I can’t find my notes for some rough calculations I did some years back, but I believe the amount of land needed for a century of US waste disposal is insignificant compared to the land needed for a moderator level of wind or solar penetration. You don’t see the headlines you used to saying that we were running out of space for our trash. I wonder if that’s because we’ve gotten better so much at waste management or because we are looking at land differently now.

    • It’s because the Green Energy Extremists say whatever suits their goal of the moment. It’s kind of a leftist thing. Some might call it misrepresentation or even lying.

    • Re ‘land use’, and looking back on too many years of personal experience: another perspective?

      There was a time, early on, when the greener and more productive areas of land were around where there stood a Chicago Air-motor (used to count more that 80 on a stretch of a few miles. Nobody ever grumbled about that; it was a source of livelihood) . A God-send to the mules and donkeys that worked day and night on calm days.

      Bare rocky areas, of value only if they could be grazed, are today ideal to host both solar and wind on the same spot. If there is no wind it is likely a sunny day. So there may be mutual compensation productivity wise. And a more stable output. Essential a holistic approach.

      Some areas, way before my time, were changed from wasteland to agrarian-productive by reclaiming with waste. [that has all ended because the water table is exhausted, and the climate is decidedly drier than it used to be.]

      There were no plastics in waste. Household goods and utensils were clay based – pottery-. Not of a few decades like plastics, but a good few millennia. Most were recycled as a roofing medium.

      • That may or may not be true, but the fact is we don’t need hard-to-manage, and therefore more expensive, unreliable energy sources like wind and solar. We merely need to keep using fossil fuels and build out nuclear. Economics and suffering will ensure that will be the outcome eventually, but if we collectively were more rational, we could get there without the suffering.

      • jim2
        “Economics and suffering will ensure that will be the outcome eventually”
        I still remember the 1973 oil crisis. I was one of the few left on the roads driving. I had changed to a high compression high efficiency 900cc engined small vehicle to maximise on what I saw that could not last at the price it was.
        If I recall correctly US fields peaked in the 70’s. Near 50yrs on, we apparently are in similar straights, after half a century of, in many ways, waste of a finite fuel.

        ” We merely need to keep using fossil fuels and build out nuclear.”
        You will think differently when the price is beyond the means, or the pump is dry. Nuclear is no saviour. That requires foremost a holistic national approach, and stability. Otherwise it is of itself a great liability. Agrarian machinery don’t run on nuclear. (Reminds me of the sight yesterday of a man carrying a large electric fan in a sea of muddy waters where only the occasional rooftop showed. Some things we take for granted foolishly.)

      • Fossil fuel prices are high now due to misguided and incompetent government entities. If those entities weren’t interfering in the energy market, fossil fuel prices would be lower. Sure, eventually prices would rise anyway, but that would have been decades away.

  21. This video is about nine minutes long. Well worth the view.
    Note that COVANTA only handles about 30% of NYC’s trash. Not once does the narrator say that maybe it would be a good idea to build more COVANTA plants to burn it all.

  22. The authors use assumptions on penetration of wind and solar generation. And then argue that it’s realizable.

    The reality is that wind and solar generation will continue to be built out at ever lower cost. With political, business and community support. Without running into resource constraints anytime soon.

    It’s the economic growth argument applied to technology. Economic growth can’t continue indefinitely? Well it can until it doesn’t. Technology innovation is the key to new opportunities in both economics and energy.

    Nothing here is a project buster for wind and solar now on the drawing boards.

    • Geoff Sherrington

      The data I have seen shows that costs increase as the penetration of W&S increases.
      There are those who model whole system comparative costs (rare) and those who model stand-alone costs (abundant, but not applicable to real life). It seems among economists that “East is East and West is West and Never the Twain Shall Meet.”
      Geoff S

      • I don’t know where Judith gets her it ‘is viable and affordable to take wind and solar to about 30 percent of a power system.’ But it’s about right according to those who model ‘entire systems’. If

      • If Geoff supplied any support for his opinions – it would be a first.

      • again, define affordable, they say the Green New Deal was “affordable.”
        If you do baseload with nuclear, you have to peak with something reliable so now you’re talking about hundreds of square miles of panels plus batteries to achieve that plus gas turbines ready to go for times when all of that solar infrastructure doesn’t produce enough (like a cold, snowy week). In other words the solar infrastructure is entirely superfluous because you have to back it up anyway. Plus, the economics are off because in a solar world you’d be buying gas on the spot market instead of some predictable forward contract, so your “savings” on gas is negligible. Ask Germany right now how that works.
        I think the 30% is high if “affordable” is treated as a real consideration.

      • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) performed a study on the eastern interconnection in the USA about a decade ago that determined 20 to 30 percent renewable penetration was relatively easily achievable…from a reliability standpoint. The reality is in the numbers reliability modellers use, and have used for years. The assumed capacity contribution for wind is about 10%, a little better for solar but decreases as solar pwnetration increases.

        Build a reliable system using dispathable power sources, then add solar and wind to offset FUEL USAGE. That’s all wind and solar can accomplish…offset fuel usage of reliable power sources. The problem is politicians and activists are dilusional and have demanded reliable power sources be shutdown and be replaced with unreliable wind and solar.

    • Whether or not wind and solar get built out at lower cost, additional build out comes with lower utilization — same for batteries.

    • Does not look like your claim is accurate. Cost of materials has skyrocketed, including the materials required for green energy, particularly batteries if used for energy storage.

      In general, probably not a good idea to assume trends well into the distant future, as reality rears it’s ugly head. Remember “too cheap to meter” for nuclear power.

  23. Judith: The land use conundrum becomes about 3-fold worse if our goal is to get the vast majority of our electricity from wind and solar. This can be seen most clearly from the deeply-flawed, but useful paper below:

    Tong et al (2021) Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power worldwide.

    Abstract: “If future net-zero emissions energy systems rely heavily on solar and wind resources, spatial and temporal mismatches between resource availability and electricity demand may challenge system reliability. Using 39 years of hourly reanalysis data (1980–2018), we analyze the ability of solar and wind resources to meet electricity demand in 42 countries, varying the hypothetical scale and mix of renewable generation as well as energy storage capacity. ASSUMING PERFECT TRANSMISSION and annual generation equal to annual demand, but no energy storage, we find the most reliable renewable electricity systems are wind-heavy and satisfy countries’ electricity demand in 72–91% of hours (83–94% by adding 12 h of storage). Yet even in systems which meet >90% of demand, hundreds of hours of unmet demand may occur annually. Our analysis helps quantify the power, energy, and utilization rates of additional energy storage, demand management, or curtailment, as well as the benefits of regional aggregation.”

    Of course, no one in their right mind thinks meeting demand 83-94% of the time is going to be adequate. And there is no such thing as perfect transmission, especially in a huge country the size of the United States where it is impractical to transmit electricity made from superior wind resources in the Great Plains to either Coast and superior solar power from the deserts of the Southwest to cities in the north. And no one in their right mind thinks meeting demand 83-94% of the time is going to be adequate. However, it is cost effective to transmit electricity from one end of Germany to the other. If we look at Figure 4(l) we can see that an optimal mix of wind and solar plus 12 h of storage (at mean demand0 would meet at least 80% demand for all but about 60 hours/year, but only if THEY BUILD NAMEPLATE GENERATION CAPACITY 3X THEIR ANNUAL DEMAND. The remaining 20% could easily be met by incentivizing some consumers to temporarily reduce their demand for electricity. This system would only fail to provide at least 50% of demand for 20 hours a year (99.7% of the time), roughly comparable to the reliability of many US systems. Without any storage, the system would fail to meet 50% of demand for about 150 hours/year (arguably unacceptable). If the capacity were reduced to 1.5X annual demand, it would fail to meet 50% of demand for about 400 hours/year even with 12 hours of storage.

    Now, the authors do find that large countries the size of the US and meet demand by building capacity equal to 1.5X annual demand and some storage, but I presume that this is only due to the assumption of “perfect transmission”. At least two other papers suggest that reliable electricity purely from wind and solar will require building a capacity of about 3X annual demand:

    Budischak et al (2013) Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time.

    The R+ RE+ option in Princeton’s massive “Net-Zero America Project” (p25) which includes a 5-fold increase in current transmission capacity (p28) to get electricity from wind and solar to where it is needed despite overbuilding generation capacity. An area equivalent to the entire states of NB, KS, OK, IA, MO, AK and WV would be consumed for renewable generation (p56)!

    • At this stage there is a need to develop a range of alternative technologies – wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, biomass and high temperature, gas cooled nuclear reactors. The last in that list could provide process heat for industry, fertiliser for food and liquid fuels for transport.

      • Robert: Princeton’s Net Zero Project offers five different pathways to Net Zero by 2050. One relies mostly on wind and solar, and builds renewable generation capacity about 3X annual demand to ensure reliability. There are other options that depend mostly on nuclear and on CCS and on biomass to keep those constituencies happy and one that uses all of them – as you appear to suggest. However, I was interested in explaining that a reliable system based mostly on wind and solar requires 3-fold more nameplate capacity and land than one would need to simple meet total annual demand. The reference cited by Judith above doesn’t take the extra generation capacity needed to make wind and solar reliable into account.

      • That wind and solar are not yet ready for prime time seems self evident. It might get there in a mix of energy solutions that might include batteries. Without requiring a whole lot of redundant capacity all – let me get this right – firing at the same time and thus not adding energy when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun don’t shine.

        100% anything is not a rational energy system. Especially at a time when perovskite photovoltaics suggest the possibility of another order of magnitude cost reduction.

      • Robert: I’d put it differently: If you build a nameplate capacity optimum mix of wind and solar generation that is 3-times average demand (possibly with limited storage), wind and solar alone are ready for prime time (99.0% – 99.7% reliability). This can be proven by looking at historic weather and electricity demand over several decades and calculating how your generation facilities would have performed. Now, almost 2/3 of the potential power generated by such a system will be wasted, because it is too costly to store or transmit long distances electricity you don’t need RIGHT NOW. The cost will be more than three times the “levelized cost of electricity” DOE reports for wind and solar. And society may not be willing to devote that much land to wind and solar. However, it appears to be technically practical without having to ration hours when electricity is available.

        In the Southern California desert, the newest facility is storing half of the electricity they generate during the day to use in the late afternoon and early evening when demand is high and solar isn’t generating much or any power. If they doubled storage, they would have reliable 100% renewable electricity from the sun for the 300 days a year that it isn’t cloudy. However, doubling storage might only help you through 1 cloudy and it takes four times as much to get through 2 cloudy days in a row.

      • This model scales up data on wind and solar generation with some modest storage to meet demand data. Sure it can be done and it doesn’t waste 2/3 of the energy generated. There is some 18% overgeneration.

        But electricity is not nearly the whole of the problem of decarbonisation – and with energy demand peaking at some 1200 EJ/yr in 2100. Not even close. Note that the US land sector is carbon neutral and that your farmers and foresters are making further inroads.

        But it is walking a fine line. Much better to have abundant nuclear energy and build ancillary markets in process heat, fertilizer, fuels, plastics…

  24. Unintended land use changes from interminable long lines at EV charging stations. Rethinking reforestation.×900

    • CKid: Your picture made me smile, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I once made a spreadsheet that calculated miles of driving range/per hour of charging time using different existing chargers. A gasoline powered car gets perhaps 1500-2000 miles of range per “charging” time at the pump. Tesla supercharges are pretty good, giving you perhaps 250-300 miles of range in about 20-30 minutes. Let’s call that 500 miles per charging hour. If you were to average 50 mph, you would spend 10 hours driving and 1 hour charging, That probably good enough unless you are trying to break the cannonball record for driving from NYC to LA.

      Now, if the government were smart enough to incentivize fast food restaurants on Interstates and other highways to install a plentiful supply of such rapid chargers, so Americans could eat and use the rest room while their car was charging, the problem of needing to charge on long trips would be mostly solved. Fast food restaurants already have all the parking spots they need for charging. Once customers know they can find charging stations at such restaurants, I suspect competition would ensure that an adequate supply of chargers existed. Unfortunately, the Biden administration appears to be investing in the “turnpike” model, where the road comes with “adequate” “gas” stations, food and, in the past, toll collectors. They work “great” … except on holidays and summer weekends and rush hour. I presume chargers installed by the free market will eventually overwhelm the government’s clumsy efforts.

      Those staying overnight at a hotel will want to be able to reserve a room with 220 volt charging, which is good enough to fill or put plenty of “miles” in the battery before starting out in the morning. Likewise 1-bedroom apartments with air conditioning and 220 volt charging at your parking space can become commonplace. With a little encouragement, the free market will meet both of these needs.

      The availability of an electricity generation system capable of meeting all of this new demand while still causing CO2 emissions to fall appears to be a much tougher problem.

  25. Another take on needed land:

    Powering America with renewables is impossible so the real question is how this impossibility will manifest itself? The funny thing is the ISOs say their software cannot model the adverse impact of increasing penetration. Hard way coming.

  26. Ironically the new IRA may kill off the subsidies. Very unintended.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      good point

      I will add that in the case of the purchase of Electric cars EV’s, the tax credit does not benefit the purchaser, instead all most all the benefit of the tax credit goes to the seller in the form of higher sales price. The credit creates an artifical shift in the demand curve. See any textbook on micro economics & the supply and demand curves

      • Jeremy Poynton

        Not to mention that the soaring cost of lecky means that even in the UK with grossly (tax based) inflated prices for petrol and diesel, will make EVs more expensive to run than petrol and diesel cars. At least we’ll get a laugh out of that – in the UK, EVs now have registration plates with a virtue signalling green stripe on (replacing the sodding EU flag).

  27. Even though Jackson, Mississippi has a Democrat mayor, we get this tripe from Bloomberg “Green Weather and Science.” “Science,” right. If any natural, or even man-made event affects people of color, the left says it’s due to racism. In fact, they have a tendency to call inanimate objects “racists.” Sometimes it seems like they have been overtaken by mass insanity.

    The water crisis unfolding in Jackson, Mississippi, was decades in the making: the culmination of crumbling infrastructure, systemic racism and more extreme weather. It’s also a stark warning of trouble to come as climate change piles new stress onto the essential services Americans rely on every day.

    In addition to warming up the planet by nearly 1.2° Celsius compared to pre-industrial times, climate change is making precipitation events more intense, and therefore more likely to overwhelm strained systems. Lower-income and minority communities such as Jackson — which is 82% Black and where a quarter of residents live in poverty — bear the brunt of the impacts.

    • Curious George

      Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Democratic mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, promised to make the capital “the most radical city on the planet” during his 2017 campaign, but so far he’s been unable to even solve even the city’s basic infrastructure problems and the city’s running water is now unsafe to drink.

    • Jim2: So why is Jackson’s infrastructure crumbling? Perhaps the Jackson government has more waste and corruption than the average city. Or perhaps the per capita income in the Jackson area may not be high enough to fund the optimal maintenance delivered in more affluent areas. Why is Jackson’s average income so low? Is it single parent families and an absence of Asian tiger-Moms? Or is the explanation a history of poor education and racial discrimination – an explanation you appear to disdain. If you look at the problem honestly, the answer isn’t clear.

      Yes, I know that the Irish, Jews, Poles, Italians, Asians and my Russian immigrant ancestors were discriminated against and mistreated. Nevertheless, they worked hard, stayed out of trouble and educated their children so they were the equal or better of those who formerly disdained them. That was the deal: Work hard, get ahead and your children will be accepted as Americans. Why not blacks? I’ve come to realize that those who came here as immigrants and overcame their handicaps were the most optimistic and driven people in their countries. The blacks who were involuntarily shipped here to be slaves certainly weren’t selected for their drive and optimism (the opposite if anything). And even if they worked hard and got ahead during Jim Crow and perhaps later, many were still second-class citizens.

      The one thing that IS clear to me is that our ideal that “all men are created equal” isn’t true today for those who don’t get a quality public education growing up. Mississippi ranks dead last in state educational achievement and a poor majority-black town in Mississippi is likely to be far worse than average even for Mississippi. They face enormous challenges compared with most of us, whether or not those problems are mostly due to past and present racism. Those in the Rust Belt today are facing enormous chalenges.

      The other thing that seems clear to me is that telling black Americans they can’t succeed without special treatment to compensate for our “racialist” society is likely to guarantee that many won’t succeed. Furthermore, if they are given serious (and presumably unconstitutional) special advantages simply because they are black, the backlash from whites who refused to “be replaced” will create even more discrimination. Thanks to Donald, polls show whites already feel “more discriminated against” than blacks.

      My advice for everyone who is affluent enough to read this blog is to feel sorry that those in Jackson are suffering from such a disaster, whether they are black or white. Sure, some of those who are black will say they are suffering from racism, and there will be some element of truth in their claims, though racism may not be the most important cause. The job is to give a helping hand to those in need today, and do our best to see that their children are “created equal” as they at least finish K-12.

      • Frank. Jackson has had a century or more to fix whatever problems it has. Jackson bears the responsibility for its problems and no one else. I’m sick of the maudlin crocodile tears for people who don’t take responsibility for anything in their lives. They have continued to vote in people who let the infrastructure go to ruin. The deserve what they vote for.

    • It must be my age. A few years ago I would have attacked this story about Jackson and climate change with a little vigor. But this kind of story where AGW seems to be the root cause of everything has become so common that I’ve lost enthusiasm to address it. But I will.
      The recent spate of Pakistan stories all blame AGW even though ancient civilizations have thrived and disappeared with the millennial changes in monsoon patterns. Stories about every drought and every flood trace their roots to AGW even though studies have found otherwise.
      The chain of causality from the Jackson tragedy to CO2 is beyond a stretch.
      A better and more productive approach would be to look in the mirror. Perhaps our systems and our budget priorities have failed us. In 2022, more than 50 years after passage of NEPA, this kind of thing should not be happening. Spending by all levels of government in the US is nearly $10 Trillion. The Federal government has been providing grants for clean water for decades. And yet a state capital has regressed to Africa like problems in accessing drinking water.
      Democrats patted themselves recently for making the rich pay their fair share of taxes when they passed the IRA. This act means that millionaires will have their taxes under current law of $1 Trillion in 2027 go up by a whopping $2 Billion. At the same time with absolutely no coverage by the politicians or the media, increases in spending by 2027 (just increases) for Social Security, Medicare and interest on the Debt, will go up by $1.3 Trillion.
      A lousy $2 Billion in taxes get the fanfare while spending goes up by $1.3 Trillion and no one says a word.
      The failure in Jackson was not because of AGW. Even if there was no warming, the infrastructure would have failed. A failure just like the one by our politicians at all levels of government over the last several decades. How many more such failures are in our future because we are obsessed with the wrong problem.

      • America’s infrastructure scores a
        C- says the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2021 infrastructure report.

        ‘The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides $1.2 trillion for our nation’s bridges, roads, rail, airports, clean water, public transit, and school facilities. The bipartisan bill was signed into law by President Biden on November 15. The legislation marks the largest U.S. federal infrastructure investment in generations.’

        It may be half what’s needed in the next 10 years – but is massive progress over what Trump or Obama accomplished.

  28. Biomethane from landfill, piggeries, sewage sludge digestion, feedlots… – is a low cost energy solution and will offset some of Australia’s natural gas demand.

    ‘The first being decarbonisation of the gas network showing that 23 per cent of Australia’s domestic gas use could be delivered by biomethane by 2030. The second, sustainable aviation fuel indicated 19 per cent and the third was renewable industrial heat being 33 per cent and that was all by 2030, McKenzie says.’

    The energy transition is not a binary choice between wind and solar or fossil fuels.

    • Curious George

      Energy mix: Every person should have five solar panels, one wind turbine, one landfill, one sludge digester, and one place to live far from it :-)

    • Biomethane is always a good/fun idea. Another would have been to run a pipeline from the northwest coast to the nearest pipeline network connection in the east. If they would have started constructing it when Gorgon was approved Australia would now have no problems with NG supply.

      • I am a civil engineer. I would need to see a lot more detail before giving credence to a thought bubble.

      • Australia is a major exporter of natural gas. ‘Based on 2019 production rates of 4,641 PJ (4.13 Tcf), Australia’s identified conventional gas resources would have a life of 42 years if all identified contingencies to development are mitigated… Based on 2019 production rates of 1,603 PJ (1.43 Tcf), these identified CSG resources would have an estimated life of 36 years if all identified contingencies to development are mitigated.’ Geoscience Australia – gas Given demand growth – the problem is foreseeable depletion in a couple of decades.

      • My point was that Australia could have kept more of the produced gas for its domestic market. That would have lasted longer than a couple decades. At the very least, it would have served as a bridge fuel for for future technology to develop.

    • The energy transition is not a binary choice between 100% wind and solar and eking out fossil fuel resources. It’s not a crime against humanity to say so.

      I responded to George and Jim in the spirit in which they engage.

      • This was a response to comments above that are in no way serious or substantive. It’s not a puzzle why they make those sort of comments. The intent is to trivialise and marginalize. It’s a standard internet tactic.

      • Curious George

        Doesn’t the proposal to produce a landfill biomethane as a serious energy source both trivialize and marginalize?

      • ‘The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2020 about 256 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of landfill gas was collected at 327 U.S. landfills and burned to generate about 10 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, or about 0.3% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation in 2020.’

        The potential may be 3 times that – while reducing methane emissions. Landfill is one of multiple sources of biomethane. The technology is simple and cheap.

      • Biomethane from landfill, piggeries, sewage sludge digestion, feedlots, bagasse, sludge from paper mills, food waste… The cleaned up sludge – predigested – can then be spread on cropland. It’s not rocket science.

  29. While wind turbines take little land (by comparison to Solar) they do have a larger impact to birds and other users of the air space. Not exactly environmentally friendly to kill off raptors, bats etc.

    • Jeremy Poynton

      And concrete poisons the earth around it. And requires huge amounts of CO2 to make.

      • OMG!!! CO2???!!!??? Noes!!!!!

        That’s a new one on me. Concrete poisons the earth around it. Ready up the white jacket.

  30. Corn ethanol is a perfect example of government incompetance. As Judith points out it actually increases carbon emissions when everything is factored in, raises food prices, and produces a lot of pollution on farms using chemicals. Natural gas is a much better alternative because it has much lower emissions and is plentiful.

    • Jeremy Poynton

      Corn also leaches the earth. Horrible crop. Which when eaten we just crap out anyway. When used as a biofuel messes with your engine. Cattle feed at best, tho’ I will only eat grass fed livestock. Living in Somerset in SW England, most farms are such.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      The theory behind ethanol is that it burns cleaner per mile, However, since in mileage drops, it burns dirtier per mile driven.
      Good example of the EPA lack of ability to understand the basic concept of marginal cost v marginal benefit. (note – the correct measurement is marginal cost v marginal benefit – cost benefit analysis is typically used, though can lead to erroneous results)

  31. I actually consider this a non-issue. A lot of solar can go on rooftops, walls. etc. California is going to cover canals with solar. As Javier points out above, there’s lots of land that isn’t really usable for other tasks.

    As for wind, turbines can be sited in the ocean, above solar farms, hung below balloons, etc.

    Renewables are not perfect and again as noted above, should be tasked with providing about 30% of electrical needs. They still do not seem economically perfect, relying on mandates and subsidies long after they should have been.

    But of all the objections to renewables, land use seems weakest.

  32. I suggest you look at densely populated European countries

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      those solar panels and wind turbines can be built in the sahara

      Oh wait. A) significant drops in power over the long distance transmission , and B) Nice stable governments in North africa.

  33. When those EV charging lines become unbearably long.

  34. Concrete in its final form is not toxic. New sources of process heat can reduce CO2 emissions. Over the life of the product carbonation can remove all and more of the CO2 produced in manufacture. Crushing and exposure to air when demolished increases the rate of carbonation. The crushed concrete can then be recycled into many products.

    Wind turbine bird kill can be reduced by 70% with the simple expedient of painting one blade black. If you want to save the birds invest in some cat contraception.

    EV wireless charging and battery swaps seem promising technologies. A 5 minute automated battery swap with batteries provided as a subscription service. Reduces the capital cost of EV’s substantially while ensuring that the batteries are diagnosed and serviced.

    But if you cannot be serious why bother?

  35. A couple points–
    Habitat destruction via human land use encroachment is easily the biggest problem facing MotherNature. We lose 5000 ac daily in the US to the bulldozer. Installation of large scale Unreliable Energy plants won’t help that any.

    Biofuel mandates represent a conundrum– 10% gasohol reduces gas mileage in an ICE (coincidently) by 10%, so you use more gallons/mile…net result– 1% “improvement” in petrol consumption. So, that oil reserve that’s supposed to last 100 yrs will last 101yrs, if everyone used 10% gasohol. (BFD)….

    …Using bio-fuels does NOT reduce the food supply, (according to the UN, 50% of food supply is wasted each day) but it does help keep farmers in business by improving profitability. If the profit’s not there, they will fail and stop farming. THAT will impact food supply.

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  41. Marty Anderson

    Very interesting thread.Several months back I made some comments relating to the land use of new “clean” technologies. One frequent poster above wrote that I new little about the technology systems. Rather than comment on that, I’d like the group to try to answer this simple question, which is crucial to all the assumptions about the future of EV’s and therefore the theme of this post – land use.
    Assume BOTH gasoline and Electric vehicles take up 130 to 230 square feet of space – then:
    A: If a typical gasoline vehicle takes 3-9 minutes to refuel for 175-500 miles of driving…and..
    B: A typical Electric vehicle takes 15-190 minutes to recharge for 90-350 miles of driving…
    How much land is required for recharging the parc of Electric vehicles if they replace 30% of the total fleet of vehicles in use in the United States?
    And – exactly WHERE will this land be?
    Really. Try this. And maybe post your answer.
    This question is central to the penetration of ANY EV technologies (including the recycling of e-waste)
    Give this a shot.