Dec 29, 2011

Does solar power eat up land?

One of the popular misconceptions about solar power is that it eats up lots of land..rows of solar power panels eating up valuable land are a common sight in pictures in the media. It is a misleading picture. In a country like India where land is mostly fertile farm land, and population pressure, this is a critical issue.

In reality, solar compares well with coal based power plants in terms of land use. The coal burners need lots of space to store coal, provide water for cooling, waste storage and so on..Plus several square km of land around the plant become practically un-livable because of pollution and other factors.

Here is a quick comparison..

The NTPC run Badarpur thermal power plant occupies about 1,200 acres - and produces 700MW of power, which may increase to 1,000 MW. This is not counting the environmental impact, cooling water channels and their land use, land wasted in coal mines and their own storage area, railway sidings and wasted land on that front, and so many other negative factors

Sempra energy in Arizona, US, has already commissioned 42MW out of the planned 150MW solar plant, barely 6 months after start of the project, the time it takes for an Indian bureaucrat to move a file from Table A to Table B, and the land area acquired, 900 acres, can be used for up to 700MW! The entire project is going to be finished in 2 years - the time it takes to get environment clearance for a thermal project!

I am pretty sure they used the available land quite liberally unlike in India where you would count every inch because it is so expensive and rare. Who knows, we may even find ways to grow crops in the space in between the panels.

As solar cell efficiencies increase, they can replace panels one by one with higher yielding ones, over time..something impossible to do with coal unless you tear down an entire plant.

And not a single cent of land is wasted to mine, store, transport coal.

Or carry the sludge, bring water and so on...

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