A new report from the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that solar power does not take up as much land as some critics have claimed. In fact, NREL has estimated that if solar energy was to meet 100% of all electricity demand in the United States, it would take up about 0.6% of the total land area of the country. The percentage is lower for Canada because our land area per person is greater. However, current technology does not allow sufficient power storage to advance solar power for 100% of our electricity requirements.
Direct land-use requirements for small and large photovoltaic installations range from 2.2 to 12.2 acres per megawatt with a capacity-weighted average of 6.9 acres/MW. Concentrating solar power installations take from 2.0 to 13.9 acres/MW, with a capacity-weighted average of 7.7 acres/MW. These numbers, which are drawn from actual in-place installations, are useful for landowners and owners of large commercial flat roof space who may be considering a solar power installation.
NREL states that a large fixed tilt photovoltaic (PV) plant that generates one gigawatt-hour per year requires, on average, 2.8 acres for the solar panels. This means that a solar power plant that provides all of the electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land. This is reportedly less than the total amount of land used for a similar amount of power from a coal-fired plant using surface-mined coal.
The report also provides data on the land use requirements of various tracking and energy storage technologies designed for use with solar panels. In general, tracking systems generate more energy than fixed-tilt systems but also require more land per unit of capacity. GallonDaily adds that they also substantially increase costs and may increase maintenance requirements.
A press release and a link to the full 39 page report can be found at http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/2269.html