Low-Impact Development Strategies
With decreased cost of installation, solar sites are being sited and installed across the country. With this increased solar capacity comes large land changes to accommodate these sites (NREL found roughly 5 acres/MW for solar sites). The sustainability of the solar industry depends on demonstrating the low-impact nature of solar development. To this end, NREL analysts sought to compile and disseminate industry practices that effectively reduce the costs and environmental impacts of large-scale solar development.
Under the Department of Energy’s SunShot, low storage cost scenario, PV deployment is predicted to increase threefold over baseline modeling, achieving 55% of contiguous U.S. electricity generation with an estimated 1,618 GW of PV capacity by 2050 (see Figure 1).1 The dramatic increase in PV capacity enabled by storage will cause significant land use pressures, requiring an estimated 6.6 million acres of land, nearly the size of Massachusetts2
Such high land demand will inevitably lead to land use conflicts and barriers to solar energy development based on concerns regarding environmental impacts and the loss of agriculturally productive land.
1 Cole, et al. SunShot 2030 for Photovoltaics (PV): Envisioning a Low-cost PV Future, 2017, NREL/TP-6A20-68105. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy17osti/68105.pdf, p. vi.
2 Additional land required for PV based on 1,618 deployment projection by 2050, minus currently deployed 50 GW, at 70% utility-scale (Bolinger et al. Utility-Scale Solar 2016) and six acres per megawatt.