There’s been a lot of back-and-forth in recent weeks about where in California solar belongs. (Tellingly, the debate isn’t about whether or not to install solar, just where….)
It started with the news that public opposition to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a big part of California’s clean energy future. DRECP would put big solar farms throughout the desert in the southeastern part of the state — a plan has put environmentalists in the tough spot of choosing between clean energy and protecting fragile ecosystems.
Last week, public officials from California and the federal government announced a dramatic change to the plan, so that it will focus first on putting solar on federal and state lands and then taking more time to address concerns about solar farms sited on private lands.
This week, however, researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science announce new findings that propose an alternative path to clean energy for the state: Put solar everywhere.
A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that putting solar “on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state’s demand by up to five times.”
“Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact,” explained Rebecca R. Hernandez on the Carnegie Science blog.
Looking at two kinds of solar technology — solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power — the study found that California is home to about 6.7 million acres of land suitable for solar PV and about 1.6 million acres suitable for concentrating solar power. If all that land is solarized (which is of course a tall order, at least in the near term), the researchers found that solar PV could generate up to 15,000 terawatt-hours of energy each year and concentrating solar could generate up to 6,000 terrawatt-hours of energy a year.
According to the U.S. EIA, California’s total electricity consumption in 2014 was just under 198 terawatt-hours — so even without developing all of those millions of acres of solar-friendly land, we could dramatically exceed our current energy demand.