Elsewhere on this site, we have mentioned that fossil fuels may be more land efficient than renewables.
But, recent information by several sources indicates that this might not be the case.
Below we summarise the land footprint of renewables vs fossil fuels, and outline which might be better overall for land use and land degradation.
Summary – Comparing Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels For Land Footprint, Land Use & Land Degradation
- If just measuring land footprint and land efficiency of renewables vs fossil fuels in terms of the power density of infrastructure and power plants, fossil fuels may look land efficient
- But, what these measurements don’t take into account is ALL fossil fuel dedicated land (for roads, pipelines, storage facilities, refineries, and so on
- When taking into account all land and various other factors for the different energy sources, it’s a State by State assessment, but renewables can be far more land efficient than fossil fuels, or use less land footprint overall. Renewable energy land can also be multi use (e.g. using solar and wind on the same land plot, or combining renewable energy land use with agriculture just as another example … whereas fossil fuel land tends to be solely fossil fuel use and dedicated.
- In addition, future solar technology development may increase power density of this power source
- With these things taken into account – future renewable energy projections and expansions look far more land efficient, have a smaller land footprint, and have a higher power density
- Furthermore, renewable energy may also lead to less land pollution/degradation than fossil fuel sources – so, the land and surrounding environment (and any humans and animals that are exposed to the area) will probably end up in better health
Some Sources Say Fossil Fuels Are More Land Efficient Than Renewables
Some sources like phys.org summarise:
- When measuring land use by power density – the average electrical power produced in one horizontal square metre of infrastructure …
- Biomass, hydro and wind … take up the most space. [Whilst] Natural gas and nuclear take [the] least
- … renewable energies generally need more space than fossil fuels
But, This Why Other Sources Say Renewables Might Have A Smaller Land Footprint Than Fossil Fuels
Paraphrased and summarised from cleantechnica.com (the full article link can be found in the resources section):
- [some sources say that wind and solar farms would take up and degrade a lot of on shore and offshore land, and also forests]
- [what previous sources don’t take into account though is the multiple uses of wind and solar land – they can be paired together, or even paired with agricultural land use]
- [previous sources also don’t fully compare the total land footprint of fossil fuels vs renewables … they mainly only compare the actual power plant and wind/solar farm land]
- [In California for example, most of the land used for fossil fuels can only be used for fossil fuels … i.e. it is dedicated fossil-fuel land, and isn’t multi use like solar or wind land ]
- [Once gas wells, road, storage facilities, fueling stations, gas pipes, refineries and all fossil fuel dedicated land is taken into account …] there is less actual footprint on the ground [in California] than the fossil infrastructure
- [Solar can also be placed on buildings, which has no land footprint, and wind turbines have a very small base land footprint]
- [If future offshore wind seems too land intensive … this can be substituted with more onland solar PV]
- [Previous renewable energy land footprint studies might include errors like counting] land that was set aside for future project expansion and double counting of land where projects overlap. [They may] also fail to account for the actual odd shapes of wind farms and includes areas beyond wind farm boundaries
- If you conveniently ignore the substantial landscape footprint of the [fossil fuel] plants’ associated … upstream infrastructure, then wind energy and solar power falsely appear to use more land than fossil-fueled power plants or nuclear reactors.
- Just between solar power and wind energy, it’s easy to see how 3 million hectares of land (the same amount currently used by oil and gas production) could fully power the entire country’s electric demand virtually in perpetuity. As turbines or solar panels wear out, new ones can be installed in the same space, or that land area can be converted back to its original use. Meanwhile, oil and gas land use is unsustainable: wells run dry, wells have to be shut-in properly after the resources are exhausted, and new wells have to be drilled elsewhere and use more land.
Solar technology may increase power density and increase total land efficiency in the future:
- … new three-dimensional designs could reach over three to five times today’s [power density] figures [for solar rooftop PV]
Future renewable energies to focus on with a growing population and land efficiency worries may be:
- … rooftop solar will be the best bet—providing clean power that doesn’t compete with other land uses. Offshore wind will help too
- … very low power densities of biomass make it a difficult sell [as a future renewable energy source], especially since the land on which it is produced can sometimes be used for growing food instead
Renewables Also Tend To Cause Less Land Pollution & Have Other Benefits Compared To Fossil Fuels
Several reports also indicate land used for
- [renewable energy] space will be less polluted [than fossil fuel space]
Cleantechies.com also list the land destruction nd land loss caused by fossil fuels and nuclear plants in their article.