Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, says the International Energy Agency (IEA) will require adding 630 gigawatts of new solar power and 390 gigawatts of new wind power per year by 2030, four times the growth rate in 2020.” For solar power, this means building the largest farm current solar energy in the world almost every day”, reports Yale Environment 360.
The problem is that the rapid expansion of large-scale solar and wind farms requires huge land acquisitions in an increasingly land-scarce world. Green energy competes with agriculture and urban sprawl as it sinks into new green pastures, and as valuable as renewables are, they are no more essential to human life than the food and housing, which makes the competition as complex as it is fierce.
For scientists and engineers, the solution is obvious: renewable energies must become much more efficient. Capacity must increase as the physical footprint of renewables decreases. Until now, approaches to this problem have been piecemeal and very context specific. Many approaches have solved the competing needs of agriculture and solar power by combining them through an approach called agrivoltaic. In Germany, farmers grow hay in the furrows between rows of standing solar panels. In France, the vines grow in the shade of the solar panels on the vines, while in Japan it is the tea leaves that benefit from the shade of the panels. In the United States, agrovoltaic aims to delay blooms benefit late season pollinators. And in many other places as remote and ecologically distinct as Canada and Australia, solar farms share pastures with sheep. However, not everything was perfect. The expansion of solar power over large swaths of land has been a contentious and contentious endeavor. Land tenure is a touchy subject and the Solar Expansion has awakened legions of NIMBYs across the world. Many communities, from cities to Native American tribes, have fought against the installation of large-scale solar farms within or near their borders. “As solar developers come up with often sprawling new projects in places like Kansas, Maine, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere, local governments and activist groups seek to block them and often succeed,” wrote Reuters earlier this year in a special report titled “U.S. solar expansion stalled by rural land use protests. The report continues: “They cite reasons ranging from aesthetics that would hurt property values to fears about health and safety, and the loss of arable land, agricultural crops or wildlife habitat.
Related: Gas price in Europe now equals $410 a barrel of oil
Now the Biden administration is quietly trying a new approach. Instead of settling on undeveloped land, a provision of the new Inflation Reduction Act funnels money into clean energy, in particular to convert existing fossil fuel power plants and other infrastructure to nuclear or renewable power plants. This could include the transformation of existing dams into hydroelectric power stations, old oil and gas wells into geothermal power stations, old coal-fired power stations into sites for large batteries, old coal mines into solar farms. These provisions could also forge a new friendship between clean energy and rural America by creating new jobs in places that have recently lost coal mines and mills, especially in West Virginia, one of the last coal strongholds of the country.
While all of these efforts are making tremendous progress that should not be ignored, the world still has a long way to go to make the expansion of renewable energy easier, more efficient and more popular. Finding new and innovative ways to scale down renewables and make them synergistic with other land use needs should be an urgent priority for policymakers and scientists everywhere. The expansion of renewable energies is not a luxury, it is a necessity in the same way as agriculture and urban development.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
More reading on Oilprice.com: