To satisfy energy demand in Missouri would require a wind farm the size of Iron County, or a solar photovoltaic farm 7% the size of the state, or a combination of both.
In the past 3 posts I have constructed “back-of-the-envelope” estimates of how much land would be required in order to meet the USA’s energy needs from wind power and solar photovoltaic power. In this post I bring it back to Missouri: how big a wind farm, how big a solar photovoltaic farm, would you need to meet Missouri’s energy consumption?
I won’t go through all the calculations like I did in the previous posts. I’ll simply say that total energy consumption in Missouri was 557,946,666 MWh in 2014.
To satisfy this demand using wind farms would occupy 556 square miles. That’s a square less than 24 miles on each side. It is roughly the size of Iron County or St. Charles County. The largest county in Missouri, Texas County, is twice as large.
To satisfy the demand using solar photovoltaics would require solar farms occupying 4,819 square miles. That is a square 69 miles on each side. It is larger than any Missouri county, but only about 7% of the state.
As in previous posts, I must here caution that the examples I drew upon to construct my analyses, the Alta Wind Farm and the Topaz Solar Farm, are located in locations with strong wind and solar resources. Wind and solar farms elsewhere would be trying to reap lesser resources, and thus, would require more land to generate the same amount of power. Thus, my estimates represent the lower limit of the land that would be required. Still, they give some estimate of the size of the task involved.
So what does all this rumination mean? First, let me reiterate that these are very rough “back-of-the-envelope” estimates. But they may be useful in demonstrating the size of the task required to convert to renewable energy.
Second, given current technology, it isn’t possible to cover the nation’s entire energy consumption using either wind power or solar photovoltaics. These technologies generate electricity, and a significant portion of the nations energy requires petroleum and natural gas. There are also engineering issues regarding the stability of the electrical grid that need to be solved
Third, it isn’t necessary to cover the nation’s entire energy consumption to have a significant effect. If we could derive 30%, 40%, 50% of the nations energy from renewables, it would make a significant impact on GHG emissions.
Fourth, converting to renewable energy would reduce air pollution, acid rain, and mercury poisoning, because all three come primarily from burning fossil fuel to create energy.
Fifth, it would also reduce our balance of payments deficit by reducing the amount of petroleum we have to buy from other nations. And it would enhance our energy security by making us less dependent on on foreign nations for our energy.
And sixth, it would take the money we currently send overseas to purchase oil and reinvest it here, in this country, possibly stimulating our own economy.
My analysis suggests, that from a land coverage viewpoint, converting to renewable energy would require a lot of land, but not a prohibitive amount. Very large wind farms and solar farms have already been installed and are generating electricity. We would have to continue installing them, but the land exists.
We would have to have a national consensus that this is an appropriate way to use our land, however. And then the technological and economic issues would have to be resolved. Many of them already have been, but some remain, and those would be the issues that would make or break the project.