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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Nov 3;112(44):13579-84. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517656112. Epub 2015 Oct 19.

Solar energy development impacts on land cover change and protected areas.

Author information

1
Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA 94035; Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305; rebeccarhernandez@berkeley.edu.
2
Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521;
3
Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;
4
Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521; Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521; Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521.

Abstract

Decisions determining the use of land for energy are of exigent concern as land scarcity, the need for ecosystem services, and demands for energy generation have concomitantly increased globally. Utility-scale solar energy (USSE) [i.e., ≥ 1 megawatt (MW)] development requires large quantities of space and land; however, studies quantifying the effect of USSE on land cover change and protected areas are limited. We assessed siting impacts of >160 USSE installations by technology type [photovoltaic (PV) vs. concentrating solar power (CSP)], area (in square kilometers), and capacity (in MW) within the global solar hot spot of the state of California (United States). Additionally, we used the Carnegie Energy and Environmental Compatibility model, a multiple criteria model, to quantify each installation according to environmental and technical compatibility. Last, we evaluated installations according to their proximity to protected areas, including inventoried roadless areas, endangered and threatened species habitat, and federally protected areas. We found the plurality of USSE (6,995 MW) in California is sited in shrublands and scrublands, comprising 375 km(2) of land cover change. Twenty-eight percent of USSE installations are located in croplands and pastures, comprising 155 km(2) of change. Less than 15% of USSE installations are sited in "Compatible" areas. The majority of "Incompatible" USSE power plants are sited far from existing transmission infrastructure, and all USSE installations average at most 7 and 5 km from protected areas, for PV and CSP, respectively. Where energy, food, and conservation goals intersect, environmental compatibility can be achieved when resource opportunities, constraints, and trade-offs are integrated into siting decisions.

KEYWORDS:

concentrating solar power; conservation; greenhouse gas emissions; land use; photovoltaics

PMID:
26483467
PMCID:
PMC4640750
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1517656112
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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