On a sunny day in early December, Inside Secretary Deb Haaland stood on a nook outdoors the Phoenix exurb of Buckeye, Arizona, the place about 3,000 acres of desert had been cleared and leveled to make approach for the Sonoran Photo voltaic Venture, which can quickly can present energy to about 91,000 properties.
Haaland comes with excellent news for utility-scale photo voltaic and local weather hawks: The Bureau of Land Administration will overview three giant photo voltaic initiatives proposed in Arizona and hopes to hurry up allowing for photo voltaic vitality on federal lands in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. “Photo voltaic vitality initiatives on public lands can assist communities throughout the nation be a part of the local weather answer, whereas creating good-paying jobs,” Haaland mentioned.
However these initiatives may uproot endangered Joshua bushes and cactus, kill or displace threatened desert tortoises, block wildlife migration routes and hurt native communities. This places conservationists and policymakers within the troublesome place of getting to decide on between saving the desert – or the planet.
There are different methods, nevertheless, and different areas for photo voltaic panels, from rooftops to farm fields parched by drought. For instance, France just lately known as for big parking tons to be coated with photo voltaic canopies that shade vehicles and supply as much as 11 gigawatts of recent era capability, equal to about 10 instances the three proposed initiatives in Arizona.
This prompted us to ask: How a lot energy could possibly be generated by slapping photo voltaic panels not solely on the West’s huge parking tons, however on its 21,000 massive field retailer roofs? We did the maths, and that is what we all know.
Estimated producing capability if photo voltaic panels cowl all 370 miles of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, as LA officers have proposed.
37,500 gigawatt-hours per yr
Launch vitality in photo voltaic canopies when all of Phoenix, Arizona’s 12.2 million parking areas are coated.
Variety of desert tortoises relocated to make approach for the Yellow Pine Photo voltaic Venture in southern Nevada in 2021. Inside just a few weeks, 30 of them had been killed, most probably by badgers.
4,200 (215,000 hectares)
Avantus bought and retired grazing leases in California’s Mojave Desert this yr to guard wildlife habitat and Joshua bushes. The Onyx Conservation Venture is a partnership with federal and state land administration companies to “offset” the results of the corporate’s developments elsewhere within the area.
Estimated variety of Joshua bushes destroyed by the 2020 Dome Hearth, believed to be exacerbated by local weather change, in California’s Mojave Nationwide Protect.
Notice: We work from two numbers calculated by Greta Bolinger and Mark Bolinger in “Land Necessities for Utility-Scale PV: An Empirical Replace on Energy and Vitality Density,” revealed within the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics in March 2022:
Energy density: .35 megawatts per hectare for utility-scale, fixed-tilt photovoltaics. Most residential photo voltaic programs are about 400 watts, or .0004 megawatts.
Vitality density: 447 megawatt-hours per yr per acre for utility-scale fixed-tilt photovoltaics. The common American family makes use of about 10 megawatt-hours of electrical energy annually.
We used Setting America numbers and Google Earth measurements to seek out that the typical massive field retailer has 3.25 acres of roof area. We used the calculations of the American Planning Affiliation to estimate that one acre has about 145 parking areas.
Further sources: BLM, EIA, Basin & Vary Watch, UC Davis, Berkeley Lab, Avantus, Primergy, American Planning Affiliation, USGS, Setting America, Google Earth.
Infographic by Luna Anna Archey/Excessive Nation Information
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Nation Information. He’s the creator of Sagebrush Empire: How a Distant Utah County Turned a Battleground for America’s Public Lands.