The Nature Conservancy recently completed a detailed study of the nation's environmentally & culturally sensitive lands and then modeled ways of reaching net-zero emissions that reduce impacts on them. I chat with two of the project leads about the land demands of the clean energy transition & the best ways to reduce them.
Does the Power of Place land use model include assumptions about the future build-out of solar canopies, with on-site stationary battery storage & V2G chargers on typical large parking lots? Or is this assumed to be part of rooftop solar? In my community, all of the new healthcare facilities have extensive solar parking lot canopies. One new Kaiser Healthcare facility was recently certified as Net Zero, following 2 years of verification monitoring. And it has no rooftop solar, but a much larger area of parking lot canopies.
It seems obvious that the best way to limit remote solar farms & associated transmission spending is to produce & store as much power on-site as possible within existing communities. Large parking lots are so widely distributed across typical medium density urban neighborhoods that many people live within a mile of one. And it’s rather unlikely that solarizing parking lots would generate much public opposition. Could distributed large solar parking lots create an integrated network of reliable neighborhood micro grids in many communities?
Evidently, France has already adopted legislation requiring solar canopies on all existing large parking lots within 3 to 5 years. Should we assume that’s because farmland & natural habitat is more precious in France? A California state Senator has recently proposed legislation to incentivize this “novel” strategy.
This is important stuff. But I worry that they are being a tad too utopian. With all the land off limits, the "allowable" regions may see more development than they like. That's the fear of some in the solar/wind farm biz. They say half of existing renewables are poorly sited. How would that have been re-sited?
I downloaded the pdfs, but I had a hard time figuring out how they were treating existing cropland used for ethanol and bio/"renewable" diesel.
As a cold climate denizen, I worry that less onshore wind means less, and more expensive, winter electricity for electrifying our heat.
I understand wanting to avoid croplands, but here in the Midwest there are huge swaths of farmland devoted to producing corn for ethanol - a dubious use of land even before considering all the environmental/social costs associated with growing corn and the fact that solar provides much higher energy density than corn ethanol.
I'd love to see some policy discussions on incentivizing redevelopment of farmland to combined solar/wind farms and/or converting corn/soybean production to more consumable and less intensive crops combined with agrivoltaics.
I appreciate what you're saying but we have to be a lot less precious about what constitutes a sensitive land resource and recognize that solar and wind development is reversible. If we put up a solar farm on underutilized or degraded ag land today, it's not that difficult to move 20 years down the line. We could even help improve the land with cover crops and grazers while it was laying fallow with panels on it.
Here in central WA, we have vocal opponents locally crying foul because solar developers have proposed installations on land that was once grazed (and is now a burnt pile of rocks). We also have massive areas of the Hanford Reserve that would be perfect for wind and solar.
The Nature Conservancy is a deeply flawed institution, and having not one but two of its mouthpieces on your usually-great show is a head-scratcher. Given the sources, listeners should heap a fair amount of salt into any findings from this report, especially pollyanna-ish conclusions about the “relatively low cost” of the energy transition.
Washington post reported in depth on how TNC *sold environmentally sensitive lands* to its donors and trustees…and gave them tax breaks as a cherry on top! So, it is odd to have 2 people from TNC on your show discussing environmentally sensitive lands, right? One wonders if there are any conflicts, eg lands their donors/trustees own may conveniently be classified as “not sensitive” in their report https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2003/05/13/nature-conservancy-suspends-land-sales/ccd75a02-7f0b-4f31-8209-85640b4b42eb/
Overview of The Nature Conservancy’s overall rot:
Specifics on their other extremely dubious recent activities:
- TNC allowing oil drilling on its lands in Texas: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/science/group-earns-oil-income-despite-pledge-on-drilling.html
- TNC selling bogus carbon offsets in 2020: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-04-05/a-top-u-s-seller-of-carbon-offsets-starts-investigating-its-own-projects
- Other signs of a deep rot at TNC: 2 top execs leave in 2019 due to sexual harassment allegations (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/29/the-nature-conservancy-harassment-probe-1488630)
- And a hilarious kicker: their website is “nature.org” which is perhaps a tad presumptuous???
More interesting topic could be which environmental orgs are fronts/tax dodges/wealth-networking/jobs for children of rich, and which are legit. Or a show about how actual people are struggling to get any of the benefits the IRA offers: no contractors have heard of it, totally unclear how to get rebates/tax breaks, etc.
Thanks for bringing attention to this study. In addition to agrivoltaics, co-location of wind and solar, and using densely packed, fixed-angle PV in suitable locations, why not consider floating PV on treatment ponds, reservoirs, and other suitable bodies of water? A recent study in Nature Sustainability (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-023-01089-6) ran the numbers: US reservoirs could accommodate 11,164 sq km of floating solar PV, which could generate 1,911 TWh of power per year, a significant contribution to total energy US electricity consumption. The figures constrain floating solar to 30% of the reservoir surface or a maximum of 30 sq km per reservoir on the 64,000 sq km of US reservoirs. Other suitable bodies of water might include parts of Chesapeake Bay, which is shallow and has some areas that could be protected from high winds. It’s also close to major load centers.
Another challenge, with deploying solar, wind, and batteries is the need to mine copper, lithium, aluminum, cobalt, rare earths, uranium, and other strategically important minerals. The Nature Conservancy study shows we have considerable flexibility when it comes to siting solar and wind, but I suspect we have less flexibility with mining operations. While we currently outsource most of our mining operations to other countries, especially China, that’s not viable over the next 25 years. I think the impact of those domestic mining operations should also be factored in to the land use requirements of the energy transition.