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Simply 464 sq. miles can absolutely decarbonize power for all of Australia — ditching fossil fuels perpetually, with zero hurt to farms


As Australia’s fast renewable power rollout continues, so too does debate over land use. Nationals Chief David Littleproud, for instance, claimed regional areas had reached “saturation level” and can not address extra wind and photo voltaic farms and transmission traces.

So how a lot land is required to totally decarbonize power in Australia? After we change fully to photo voltaic and wind, do we now have the house for all of the panels, generators and energy traces?

I’ve executed the sums. All we want is 1,200 sq. kilometers — or 464 sq. miles. That’s not a lot. The space dedicated to agriculture is about 3,500 occasions bigger at 4.2 million sq. kilometers. The world of land that might be taken away from agriculture works out at about 45 sq. meters per particular person — concerning the measurement of a giant front room.

We will ditch fossil fuels and cut back greenhouse emissions with negligible affect on agriculture. And in lots of instances, farmers could be paid for internet hosting renewable power infrastructure whereas persevering with to run sheep and cows or develop crops.

The problem of the power transition

Electrical energy consumption in Australia is presently about 10 megawatt-hours (MWh) per particular person per yr.

Decarbonizing Australia’s financial system would require electrifying many applied sciences that presently derive their energy from burning fossil fuels. Then we have to make sure the electrical energy grid runs fully on renewables.

After we electrify transport, heating and trade, annual electrical energy consumption per capita doubles. However we are going to want much more electrical energy to decarbonize aviation and delivery. So it’s affordable to imagine electrical energy consumption should triple if we’re to finish decarbonization, to 30MWh per particular person per yr.

This may logically be achieved in three levels, beginning with the best to realize:

Stage 1: Photo voltaic and wind displace coal and fuel from the electrical energy system. The federal authorities goal of 82% renewable electrical energy by 2030 places us firmly on monitor to decarbonize electrical energy. This development is already effectively underway as proven by the graph under.

Stage 2: Clear electrical energy is used to impress transport (electrical autos), heating (electrical warmth pumps) and industrial warmth (electrical furnaces). This off-the-shelf know-how may largely substitute petrol and fuel inside a decade with negligible affect on the price of operating autos and heating houses.

Stage 3: The chemical trade is decarbonized. Clear electrical energy is used to make ammonia, iron, metal, plastics, cement, and artificial aviation and delivery gasoline.

The place will this clear energy come from?

Just about all new technology capability in Australia over the previous decade has been in photo voltaic and wind. Collectively, photo voltaic and wind have risen from about 6% of electrical energy technology in 2014 to 33% at the moment. Photo voltaic and wind present the most affordable electrical energy.

Most solar energy in Australia at the moment comes from rooftop photo voltaic panels. These panels don’t require any additional land. However the space of rooftop is proscribed. In coming years, ground-mounted photo voltaic farms will turn out to be ever extra essential.

We’ll additionally want extra wind farms. Every wind farm incorporates dozens of generators and spans dozens of sq. kilometers. However solely a small fraction of the land is misplaced to farming.

And it’s finest to unfold the photo voltaic farms and wind farms all through the settled areas of Australia, to scale back the impact of native cloud and wind lulls.

Most photo voltaic and wind farms are situated on sheep and cattle farms inland from the Nice Dividing Vary. Right here there’s loads of solar and wind, and it’s not too distant to transmit electrical energy to the cities by way of high-voltage energy traces.

So how a lot land do we want?

Usually, solely about 1% of land lined by a windfarm is definitely misplaced to farming. Normally, farmers run livestock or proceed cropping across the turbine towers and entry roads.

Equally, as a result of photo voltaic panels are spaced aside, the realm spanned by a photo voltaic farm is commonly two to 3 occasions the precise space of the panels themselves.

The panels are sometimes spaced to keep away from losses from shading. As an added bonus, it means rain and daylight can fall between them, permitting grass to develop and livestock to graze and shelter.

About 10,000km of latest transmission traces can even be required for the power transition. This feels like loads however quantities to simply 37 centimeters per particular person.

Once more, the realm of land that might be taken away from agriculture for wind turbine towers and entry roads is comparatively small.

An extra small space of land will likely be devoted to new storage similar to pumped hydro energy and batteries.

The overall space spanned by the photo voltaic farms, wind farms and all the opposite infrastructure is about 22,000 sq. km (principally the land between the generators in windfarms). However agriculture may proceed largely as regular on most of this land.

By my calculations, the full space taken away from agriculture to energy a 100% renewable power (zero fossil gasoline) financial system is about 45 sq. meters per particular person. Contemplating Australia’s whole inhabitants of 27 million individuals, which means the full land space required is 1,200 sq. km. The world presently dedicated to agriculture is about 3,500 occasions bigger than this.

Blue and white solar panel with more panels behind on grass
Just about all new technology capability in Australia over the previous decade has been in photo voltaic and wind. (Mariana Proença/Unsplash)

Farmers can earn additional revenue

Mining firms are sometimes permitted to mine land with out the consent of the landowner.

Photo voltaic and wind farm builders do not need the identical rights. They have to agree on lease charges with landowners earlier than having access to land. These charges are sometimes tens of 1000’s of {dollars} per yr per turbine.

Within the case of transmission traces, hosts in Victoria are paid A$200,000 per kilometer over eight years.

The transition to renewable power has attracted opposition from some residents dwelling close to proposed infrastructure. However this may be overcome.

Profitable photo voltaic and wind farm firms acquire group acceptance by means of real transparency, significantly early within the venture, to make sure no data vacuum is created after which full of misinformation.

Paying neighbors in addition to the renewable power host farm, and establishing group funds, can also be useful.

Loads of land to share

The enlargement of renewable power infrastructure will likely be concentrated in Australia’s regional areas. However we are able to additionally count on new power capability from elsewhere, similar to expanded rooftop photo voltaic and new offshore wind farms, which reduces the quantity of land wanted for the power transition.

The placement of fine areas for photo voltaic and wind farms is proven within the Australian Nationwide College’s renewable power heatmaps, which takes account of the photo voltaic and wind sources, proximity to transmission traces, and guarded land. Farmers in areas coloured crimson can command greater costs for leasing land to photo voltaic and wind farm firms.

Briefly, Australia has way over sufficient land to host the photo voltaic farms and wind farms required for the renewable power revolution.

This text by Andrew Blakers, from Australian Nationwide College, was initially printed by The Dialog.

The Conversation

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