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August 14, 2013

NREL Analyzes Solar Energy Land-Use Requirements

The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has published a report on the land use requirements of solar power plants based on land-use practices from existing solar facilities. The report, “Land-use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States,” gathered data from 72% of the solar power plants currently installed or under construction in the United States.

Among the findings were that a large, fixed-tilt photovoltaic (PV) plant that generates 1 gigawatt-hour per year requires an average of 2.8 acres for the solar panels. This means that a solar power plant that provides electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land. Also, 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. And finally, concentrating solar power plants require on average 2.7 acres per annual gigawatt-hour for solar collectors and other equipment, or 3.5 acres when considering all land enclosed within the project boundary.

By the third quarter of 2012, the United States had deployed more than 2.1 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power generation capacity, with another 4.6 gigawatts under construction. A previous NREL report, “Land-use Requirements and the Per-capita Solar Footprint for Photovoltaic Generation in the United States,” had estimated that if solar energy was to meet 100% of all electricity demand in the United States, it would take up 0.6% of the total area in the United States. For the newer report, the data come not from estimates or calculations, but from compiling land use numbers from actual solar power plants. See the NREL press release and complete reportPDF.