Fact Check – Solar Land Space Needs

Fact Check – Solar Land Space Needs

I am still working on reviewing the EPA Clean Power Plan analysis (Paper #1, Paper #2, Paper #3).  I am currently running multiple dispatch simulations to produce an impact analysis using AuroraXMP.  However, I got distracted from a twitter blog that showed the solar land requirements for the world to be extremely small.  See blog screenshot below.

I traced the source to this paper from a student who wrote it for their Diploma Thesis.  On page 11 & 12 of their report are the claim and the graphic being spread on the internet.   The first issue which should jump out is the statement “If a solar electricity yield of 250 GWhel/km² is taken as base ….”  Doing a little research one can conclude at best that yield is off by 3X per the latest by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  In addition, the world electric consumption seems to be a little low in the assumption used 16,076 TWh/y vs. 20,280 TWh/yr.

If we recompute the numbers using a low estimate of land use per NREL of 3 acre/GWH-yr, the state of Oregon becomes the world size requirement versus the analysis which was closer to the size of West Virginia.   West Virginia is more represented of the US requirement.  This is not including the need to get battery storage and transmission.  Battery storage size would be much smaller – less than Rhode Island.   However land requirement is only one piece of the puzzle.   Data source for state area.

The initial capital cost of such endeavor would be at least twice as large as using natural gas generation.  Utility scale solar cost is at best around $2000/kW – then a utility scale battery would add another $500/kW versus a brand new gas plant which is around $1000/kW.   The gas plant does have a significant variable cost, but as many of you know who have to budget your money, the best decision for the long-run sometimes cost too much given your current capital constraints.   The trend for de-regulation for the generation business puts a greater limit on the ability to make these longer term decisions.

Lesson learned always check your facts when it comes to energy related discussions.  It is too easy to manipulate the facts, because there is so much data and few go deeper to find the truth.  The truth shall set you free.

Back to EPA analysis – stay tune….

Your Energy Consultant in Search of the Truth,


David K. Bellman
All Energy Consulting LLC- “Independent analysis and opinions without a bias.”
blog:  http://allenergyconsulting.com/blog/category/market-insights/




  1. florent pessina

    I recommend you to read http://www.menarec.org/resources/Trieb_MENAREC3.pdf for instance which states that for that area of the world the solar electricity yield is really 250 GWhel/km²

    • I did notice and read your reference. However are you then disputing the NREL observations for which my analysis is based on? The report you refer to would be biased to over estimate given the participants in the report. I believe NREL is quite objective without much bias to over or under estimates given their need to sustain their credibility.

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