Concentrating solar power land use

From Global Energy Monitor

Land use for Concentrating solar power (CSP)

Ausra Calculation

David Mills, chairman of concentrating solar power (CSP) manufacturer Ausra, claims that 100 percent of the 2005/6 US electric power (1067 gigawatts (GW) and a non-coincident peak load of 789 GW), day and night, could be supplied by 23,418 km2 of CSP, or a square with 153 km (95 miles) sides.[1]

Rutledge Calculation

David Rutledge of CalTech writes, using the Nevada Solar One plant as a reference point: "US annual electricity consumption is 12.5EJ,or 3,500TWh, production from Nevada Solar One is taken to be 0.130TWh/y, from the link This gives us an area of 3500/0.13*0.43 = 11,600 square miles to replace the US electrical grid. The side length of a square with this area would be 108 miles (174km)."[2]

Land Use Comparisons

Coal mining

"By contrast, more than 9,000 square miles of the United States has been disturbed by coal mining over the nation’s history. And at least 1,644 square miles are disturbed by current mining operations (based on an incomplete estimate of impacts in only 19 of 32 coal-mining states and tribal entities)."[3]

Coal Plants

According to the Central Electric Authority in India: "land requirements for pithead thermal plants range from 0.6 to 1.1 acre per MW."[4]

Land for Feeding Horses

Arnulf Grubler estimates that the area devoted to feed for horses in the US before the coming of cars as 40 million hectares, which is 154,000 square miles.[5]

Land for Roads

David Rutledge of CalTech writes: "It also appears that this area is comparable to the area we devote to roads. Arnulf Grubler, in the book Technology and Global Change, gives the length of US roads in 1985 as 3.5 million miles. If we multiply by a width of 30ft (the street in front of my house is 33 feet wide), we get 20,000 square miles, which is twice the area we would need to devote to the solar plants that would generate as much electricity as the grid does."[6]

Land for Lawns

David Rutledge of CalTech writes:
"'Even conservatively,' Milesi says, 'I estimate there are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn.' This means lawns—including residential and commercial lawns, golf courses, etc—could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, covering about 128,000 square kilometers in all. 128,000 square kilometers is 49,000 square miles."[7]

Airports and railroads

The USDA estimates that airports used 2.4 million acres (about 3,750 square miles) of land in the U.S. in 2002, and railroads used 3.1 million acres (about 4,800 square miles).[8]

Rural highways/roads

The USDA estimates that rural roads used 21.8 million acres (about 34,000 square miles) of land in the U.S. in 2002.[8]

Urban areas

The USDA estimates that urban areas used 60 million acres (about 93,000 square miles) of land in the U.S. in 2002.[8]

National/state parks

The USDA estimates that national/state parks used 99.2 million acres (about 155,000 square miles) of land in the U.S. in 2002.[8]

Wilderness areas

The USDA estimates that wilderness areas used 41.4 million acres (about 65,000 square miles) of land in the U.S. in 2002.[8]

Wildlife areas

The USDA estimates that wildlife areas used 101.6 million acres of land (about 159,000 square miles) in the U.S. in 2002.[8]

Department of Defense installations

The USDA estimates that Department of Defense installations used 13 million acres of land (about 20,000 square miles) in the U.S. in 2002.[9]

"Environmental Purposes"

Land used for environmental purposes in 2002 was 242.2 million acres (about 378,000 square miles), based on combining the above figures for parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife areas.

Using brownfields for solar projects

As part of the Environmental Protection Agency's RE-Powering America's Land initiative, the EPA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have identified nearly 4,100 contaminated sites as economically suitable locations for wind, solar, and biomass projects. These include 5 million acres considered suitable for photovoltaic or concentrated solar power development, and 500,000 acres considered suitable for wind power. According to the EPA, the sites have the potential to produce 950,000 megawatts.[10][11]



  1. David R. Mills and Robert G. Morgan, "Solar Thermal Electricity as the Primary Replacement for Coal and Oil in U.S. Generation and Transportation," accessed September 2009
  2. "Hubbert's Peak, The Coal Question, and Climate Change," (notes to Powerpoint slide 54)
  3. "On the Rise: Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming," Environment America, Spring 2008 (PDF file), p. 28 (Study cites: "9,000 square miles from Adam Serchuk, Renewable Energy Policy Project, "The Environmental Imperative for Renewable Energy: An Update, April 2000"; 1,644 square miles from U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining, Answers to the 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions, downloaded from, 26 March 2008.
  4. Kannan Kasturi, "New Thermal Power Clusters" Economic and Political Weekly, Oct. 1, 2011.
  5. Arnulf Grubler, Technology and Global Change, p. 446.
  6. "Hubbert's Peak, The Coal Question, and Climate Change," (notes to Powerpoint slide 54)
  7. "Hubbert's Peak, The Coal Question, and Climate Change," (notes to Powerpoint slide 54)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Major Uses of Land in The United States, 2002, USDA, p.31, Table 9
  9. Major Uses of Land in The United States, 2002, USDA, p.31, Table 9 (see note 5 below table)
  10. Scott Streater, "Green shoots from brownfields," The Daily Climate, October 8, 2009
  11. Siting Renewable Energy on Potentially Contaminated Land and Mine Sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, RE-Powering America's Land

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