[ExI] massive "green" industrial transformation of the landscape

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sat Jul 28 14:28:14 UTC 2007

Energy Projects Will Devour Huge Amounts of Land, Warns Researcher
IAN SAMPLE, Science Correspondent - The Guardian (U.K.)

Large-scale renewable energy projects will cause widespread 
environmental damage by industrialising vast swaths of countryside, a 
leading scientist claims today. The warning follows an analysis of 
the amount of land that renewable energy resources, including wind 
farms, biofuel crops and photovoltaic solar cells, require to produce 
substantial amounts of power.

Jesse Ausubel, a professor of environmental science and director of 
the Human Environment programme at Rockefeller University in New 
York, found that enormous stretches of countryside would have to be 
converted into intensive farmland or developed with buildings and 
access roads for renewable energy plants to make a significant 
contribution to global energy demands.

Prof Ausubel reached his conclusions by ranking renewable energies 
according to the amount of power they produce for each square metre 
of land. The assessment allows direct comparison between the 
different approaches, based on the impact they will have on the 
surrounding landscape.

The analysis showed that damming rivers to make use of hydroelectric 
power was among the most harmful to the landscape, producing around 
0.1 watts of power per square metre. The world's largest dam, the 
Three Gorges power station on the Yangtze in China, stores nearly 
40bn cubic metres of water, submerging land that was previously home 
to more than 1 million people.

Biofuel crops and wind energy fared better in the study, with both 
generating around 1.2w to a square metre. Leading the renewable 
energy sources were photovoltaic solar cells, which use sunlight to 
create electricity, at around six to seven watts to a square metre.

Prof Ausubel investigated how much land renewable energies would need 
to provide electricity for large populations and compared them to 
output from nuclear power stations.

In one example he showed that damming rainfall and flooding the 
entire Canadian province of Ontario would generate hydroelectric 
power equivalent to 80% of that produced by the country's 25 nuclear 
power plants.

Another calculation revealed that to meet US energy demands for 2005 
with wind power would require constant winds blowing onto wind farms 
covering more than 780,000 square kilometres of land, the area of 
Texas and Louisiana combined. A comparison of solar energy with 
nuclear found that a hectare of photovoltaic cells was needed to 
produce the same amount of power as one litre of fuel in the core of 
a nuclear reactor.

The report breaks what Prof Ausubel calls the "taboo of talking about 
the strong negative aspects of renewables", by focusing on examples 
that highlight their limitations. "When most people think of 
renewables and their impact, they're mistaking pleasant landscaping 
with what would be a massive industrial transformation of the 
landscape," he said.

"A fundamental credo of being green is that you cause minimal 
interference with the landscape. We should be farming less land, 
logging less forest and trawling less ocean - disturbing the 
landscape less and sparing land for nature. But all of these 
renewable sources of energy are incredibly invasive and aggressive 
with regard to nature. Renewables may be renewable, but they are not 
green," he added.

The report, which appears in the International Journal of Nuclear 
Governance, Economy and Ecology today, also criticises plans for 
widespread farming of biofuels. With current technology, Prof Ausubel 
estimates that one to two hectares of land would be needed to produce 
fuel for each of the world's 700m cars and other motor vehicles. 
"From an environmental point of view the biofuels business is a 
madness," he said.

Prof Ausubel said that despite technical and political concerns, 
nuclear power plants still ranked as the most 
environmentally-friendly for large conurbations. "The good news about 
nuclear is that over the past 50 years all of the forms of waste 
storage seem to have worked."

Power compared

Hydroelectric energy is the least efficient way of using land to 
produce power. One square metre on average produces 0.1 watts.

A generator burning biomass requires crops from 250,000 hectares to 
match the electricity output of a nuclear power station.

Wind energy
Wind farms generate around 1.2 watts for every square metre of land.

Solar power
Photovoltaic cells covering an area of 150,000 square kilometres 
would be needed to meet US electricity needs for a year. To power New 
York city would take 12,000 square kilometres, about the size of Connecticut.

[[Note: no allowance made here for technical improvements in solar, 
for retrofitting of roofs or roads, etc--D.B.]] 

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