Update: Original title—-Every Inch of Texas, California, Oregon, And More, Are Needed To Supply Wind Power To The USA—was too unwieldy. Changed.
From Nate Winchester comes this email with a fun back-of-the envelope problem:
I was reading some energy debate comments when a thought struck. So I decided to check this.
Per the US Energy Information Agency the USA consumed 92.94 quadrillion Btu in 2020.
1 megawatt = 3,409,510 Btu.
That means in 2020, the USA consumed 27,259,048,954 megawatts (or 27.25 billion).
Now per In The Footprint of Energy: Land Use of U.S. Electricity Production, Strata Policy found that wind power requires 70.64 acres per megawatt and solar power requires 43.50 acres per megawatt.
That means to go green, just for 2020, wind power would require 1,925,579,218,128 acres. Solar power would require 1,185,768,629,499 acres.
The ENTIRE land surface of the earth is 36,803,875,537 acres.
Meaning IF we assume that renewables are operating optimally AND assume that they are doing so at all times, we could cover the ENTIRE surface of Earth with wind & solar and still not generate enough energy for the United States ALONE – much less any other nation.
Did I miss anything or make an error?
Let’s write it out so everybody can follow along. Step one, yes, the EIA says 92.94 quadrillion BTUs were consumed in 2020. That’s 92.94 x 10^15 BTU. This is also written 92.94E15 in shorthand.
I went to a site that does conversions and discovered 1 megawatt = 3,412,141 BTU/hour. Pretty close to your figure, and surely within the uncertainty.
That means the US consumes
1 MW/(3.41E6 BTU/h) * 92.94E15 BTU = 27,255,131,965 MW h = 27.26E9 MW h,
or a 27.26 billion MW hours.
Now according to your source on land use for WIND:
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, large wind facilities use between 24.7 and 123.6 acres per megawatt of output capacity. Most of the area is due to necessary spacing between turbines, which is typically five to 10 rotor diameter lengths. According to Tom Gray of the American Wind Energy Association, the average total land use for wind is 60 acres per megawatt. Such extensive land use requirements become staggering when considered on a national scale. For example, for a wind facility to match the output of a 1.3 square mile 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant, it would need an area of approximately 85,240 acres or 133 square miles.
Let’s use the 60 acres/1 MW figure, recalling there are about 8760 hours per year, and the other figures are all by year (the notation we left out).
(60a/1MW) * 27.26E9 MW h * 1 year/8760 h = 186,712,329 acres.
As we remember from middle school 1 mile^2 is 640 acres. Thus
186,712,329 a * 1 m^2/640 = 291,738 m^2.
So we’d need 292 thousand square miles, which is roughly 1/13 of the entire land surface of the USA, of windmills turning constantly to provide all the energy we need in 2020.
Texas, for instance, is 269 thousand m^2, so we’d need all of Texas, and a great chunk of Louisiana, just for windmills.
If instead the 123.6 acres per megawatt is correct, we’d need 600 thousand m^2. So we’d have to add all of California and Oregone, too (there is no misspelling). And that’s not considering all the constant maintenance and breakdowns, and calm days!, which would put a good chunk of the system off line a lot of time.
Meaning we’d have to add even more land to get consistent power. Add in Washington and New York. Every inch of them.
In short, wind is not the answer.
How about solar? That same source says:
Consequently, utility scale solar requires an average of 8.1 acres per megawatt capacity of electricity generation and thermal solar plants require 10 acres per megawatt capacity. These estimates include land used for access roads and transmission lines. Unlike wind, this land is unusable for other purposes.
Call it 10 a/MW. Then, using the similar calculations, we’d need 48,623 m^2. That’s a good chunk of South Carolina.
It’d be more than this because of the space needed for transmission lines. Also, since in my places it gets dark at night, and cloudy from time to time, we’d need to boost these figures even more. Call it double as a conservative guess.
That means roughly 100 M^2, which is Kentucky.
Solar won’t do it either.
Solar projects can be hobby-type or small-scale augmentations, but wind is a boondoogle from the get go. Not only are windmills massive land grabbers, they are inefficient, prone to costly breakdowns, and butt ugly landsores. Not to mention all the dead birds.
They make certain people feel good, though. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Subscribe or donate to support this site and its wholly independent host using credit card or PayPal click here