Just 1% of Land Would Power the World on Solar

Solar PV can meet 100% of electricity demand on just 1% of  land by 2050, says the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

In 2010, they produced a report showing that a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy can supply the world’s energy by 2050. But how much land would that take to make that huge jump feasible? And how would that impact conservation efforts to preserve wildlands? 

To answer that, WWF studied seven countries that have strong solar potential (lots of sun) as well as diverse geographies, demographics, natural environments, economies and political structures.

They found that solar could indeed produce all the energy while taking up only 1% of the land in in Indonesia, Madagscar, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, Turkey and the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.  

"With its selection of diverse areas, the atlas illustrates that PV technology, when well-planned, does not conflict with conservation goals. On a macro level, no country or region must choose between solar PV and space for humans and nature. Quite the opposite. As climate change threatens humans and the environment, it is more important than ever to work for the efficient and wide-scale adoption of well-sited, responsibly and effectively operated renewable energy generation facilities. Environmental protection and renewable energy can and must develop in parallel."

The authors understand that a "balanced portfolio of renewable energy sources will ultimately fill global energy needs," but this solar study illustrates that "even using very conservative numbers for calculations, the maximum amount of space solar PV could need, on the ground and on buildings, is relatively low. In a realistic global portfolio of renewable energy generation technologies, PV will very likely require far less land than illustrated here."

The authors recommend that stakeholders including PV solar manufacturers, project developers, policy makers, and others should jointly establish global, sector-wide guidelines for responsible community engagement and land management.

  • Create dedicated buffer areas in solar parks that can become biotopes for endangered species
  • Thorough environmental impact assessments
  • Local involvement in project planning
  • Techniques that avoid soil sealing
  • Post-construction replanting that preserves local genetic diversity
  • Minimization of closed areas and fence designs that create passageways for animals
  • Continuous monitoring

Wind energy can easily supply half the world electricity. It would take 4 million, 5 megawatt (MW) turbines to do that. 

Another report shows how renewable energy can supply 95% of the world’s electricity by 2050, while creating 12 million jobs, published by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) back in 2010. 

Studies have also reach similar conclusions for the US. A very recent study shows that by 2030, renewable energy can fully supply the US at costs comparable to today’s electricity prices

Another study is more conservative, projecting renewables can supply 80% of US electricity by 2050.

Download "Solar PV Atlas: Solar Power in Harmony with Nature": 

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