How Much Land Does it Take to Produce Solar Energy for 1000 Homes?

How much land does it take to produce 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) of power a year –  enough for 1,000 homes?

Answer: About 32 acres of solar PV.

That’s one of many nifty facts in a National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) analysis of how much land is required for various kinds of solar technologies.

Until now, lots of numbers have been thrown around about how much land is needed for solar, but now there are enough plants in operation to know for sure.

Based on data from 72% of operating US solar plants, NREL researchers find that developers have been pretty accurate in their estimations.  

"The numbers aren’t good news or bad news," says Paul Denholm, one of the report’s authors. "It’s just that there was not an understanding of actual land-use requirements before this work. However, we were happy to find out that many of the solar land use ranges and estimates used in the literature are very close to actual solar land use requirements that we found."

"Now people will actually have numbers to cite when they conduct analyses and publish reports," "says Sean Ong, another one of the report’s authors. 

To supply 1000 homes with solar (1 GWh of electricity a year), NREL finds that about 2.8 acres are needed for solar panels, whether they be concentrating or solar PV.

Here’s how NREL describes it:

  • A large fixed tilt solar PV plant that generates 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) per year requires, on average, 2.8 acres for solar panels. This means that a solar plant that provides all the electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land.
  • Small single-axis PV systems require on average 2.9 acres per annual GWh – or 3.8 acres when considering all unused area that falls inside the project boundary.
  • Concentrating solar power plants require on average 2.7 acres for solar collectors and other equipment per annual GWh; 3.5 acres for all land enclosed within the project boundary.

It’s also a starting point to compare solar land use with that of other energy sources, such as wind. 

These land-use estimates can also be compared with other energy sources. A 2009 Columbia University study concluded that utility-scale solar PV in the US Southwest requires less land than the average power plant that uses surface-mined coal.

"Modelers and analysts, people looking 10 or 20 years into the future can use this report to evaluate the impacts solar energy may have," notes Denholm.

The US has more than 8.5 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity, enough to power 1.3 million homes.

This year, projections call for another 4.4 GW of solar PV and 938 megawatts (MW) of concentrating solar to come online, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.

Read "Land-use Requirements for Solar Plans in the United States":

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Comments on “How Much Land Does it Take to Produce Solar Energy for 1000 Homes?”

  1. jerry

    Something is wrong with the figures cited in this article. If 1GW of solar powers 1,000 homes, than how does the existing 8.5GW power 1.3 million homes?

    I’m a big fan of solar. Please provide some corrected figures that could be quoted. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Lisa

    Can you clarify 32 acres vs. 2.8 acres to power 1,000 homes? Article cites both numbers, kind of confusing. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Sean T

    not a well written article at all. I find it hard to believe an editor actually read this.

    A large fixed tilt photovoltaic plant that generates 1 GWh per year requires, on average, 2.8 acres for the solar panels for that output.

    if the average home uses 11,280 kWh per year, 1000 homes use 11.28 GWh (11,280,0000 kWh).

    multiply that by 2.8 acres per GWh and one gets about 31.5 acres.

    I assume that is how that math was done, but who knows.

    Reply
  4. SeanT

    cant edit my post – i put one too many zeroes in my large kWh number – 11,280,000 kWh)

    1 MWH is equal to 1000 kWh so it is 11,280 kWh (or 11.28 MWh) per year per home on avg.

    their metric is 1000 homes, which would be 11280 MWh (or 11.28 GWh – 1000 MWh is 1 GWh)

    Reply

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