Jesse Jenkins on the land requirements of renewables

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Over at the Energy Collective, Jesse Jenkins has a piece on the land requirements of renewables, arguing that they aren’t a major barrier to deployment. Long-term readers will know I disagree with this as far as wind farms are concerned.

A short excerpt:

When it comes to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, the diffuse nature of these resources and the relatively large land area requirements that result is often held up as a barrier to widespread adoption.

Do we really have enough land to turn en masse to solar and wind energy to power modern economies? Or is land use a showstopper for renewable energy?

The reality is that, excluding biomass (more on that later) and with the exception of a few densely populated countries with relatively poor renewable resources, the land area required for widespread renewable energy adoption is relatively minor, especially compared to other human uses of the landscape.

This “with the exception of a few densely populated countries” seems more than a little off, especially given that it links to something I wrote arguing that that there are far more than a “few” densely populated countries which will struggle with expanding onshore wind because of population density.

So, let’s begin with this simple fact. Getting all of Britain’s energy needs from onshore wind farms would require something like half of Britain, or perhaps close to all of it, to be covered in wind farms. This is clearly not going to happen.

And Britain is a windy place. Similarly densely populated countries with poorer wind resources will struggle even more. And more or less every country with similar or greater population density than Britain is less windy.

What other countries that have similar population densities or are densely populated than Britain? Here is a quick list: Holland, Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Indian, Bangladesh, Singapore, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Pakistan, Israel. That’s probably approaching two billion people. Or maybe more, I haven’t counted.

We also have China, where almost three quarters of the population live in provinces with higher population densities than Britain. They are also provinces with poor wind resources.

So, this takes us to around half of humanity living in countries where population density will be a serious barrier to deploying onshore wind. The adjective “few” does not apply here.

I am in the middle of reading Vaclav Smil’s so far excellent book on the subject of the spatial requirements of energy sources, so expect me to return to the subject soon.