A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Infrastructure Overload of Renewable Energies

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 25, 2023

“The planned energy transition towards ‘net zero’ using ‘renewable’ energy, will inevitably lead to massive environmental destruction, with a six-times increase in environmental damage by 2050. This is concluded by scientists in a recent study [in Nature].” (below)

Highlighting a Nature scientific report, “Spatial Energy Density of Large-scale Electricity Generation from Power Sources Worldwide” [1], Hans Wolkers, science journalist, photographer, and writer, recently reported on social media:

Renewables lead to more destruction of ecosystems

The planned energy transition towards ‘net zero’ using ‘renewable’ energy, will inevitably lead to massive environmental destruction, with a six-times increase in environmental damage by 2050. This is concluded by scientists in a recent study (https://lnkd.in/emQwZBi2).
The EU has adopted a net-zero strategy that comes with the installation of even more wind turbines and solar panels. The North Sea has already been sacrificed to become an industrial power generator, while NGO’s, like Greenpeace and WWF keep silent. It becomes clear that politicians, as well as NGOs, are willing to give up forests, land and wildlife habitat for their ineffective net-zero dream.
Six times more damaging impacts
In the study, scientists calculated the energy generated per square kilometer occupied by the plant, including the infrastructure. The conclusion: so-called ‘renewables’ inevitably encroach on wildlife habitat due to their large area use, leading to a six-times increase in damaging impacts by 2050. In total, an area the size of the EU would be needed to supply the world with sufficient ‘renewable’ electricity. In contrast, nuclear would only need an area less than a third of The Netherlands. For example, onshore wind uses a staggering 350 times higher surface area than nuclear.

Massive environmental problems
The choice for these unsustainable renewables also comes with impacts due to mining for minerals and deforestation to harvest balsa wood for the wind turbine blades. This leads to huge environmental problems, slave labor and deforestation in the tropics. On top of that, documented mortality of birds, bats and especially insects caused by wind turbines, a fact also largely ignored by leading NGO’s, makes wind energy an even less desirable option.

True environmental crisis
The present study shows that the ‘net-zero’ policy results in a true environmental crisis, not caused by climate change, but by unsustainable mitigation measures, as dictated by politicians. In that context it is just incomprehensible that Greenpeace and WWF are currently suing the European commission for including natural gas and nuclear energy as ‘green’ investments. These organizations have turned against their original mission: protecting the environment. They have become ignorant and an enemy of wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

The infrastructure burden of utility-scale wind and solar is part of mainstream thinking. Not only the above Nature article but also a Princeton study two years ago, “Net Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure and Impacts,” quantified the problem. The 345-page analysis, authored by 10 Princeton researchers and 8 external collaborators, was summarized by Peter Behr and Jeffrey Tomich, “Biden’s Dilemma: Land for Renewables” (March 24, 2021):

Picture an area of land equal to the combined territories of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island — 228,000 square miles in all. That’s the space that could be required to site most of the massive deployments of wind and solar generation required to fulfill President Biden’s goal of a net-zero-carbon economy by midcentury, according to a recent first-ever project to attempt mapping that future.

‘Machining up’ the pristine in the name of the environmental is a strange thing to behold. Fossil fuels are the friend of the landscape, the living space. Stated Peter Huber in Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists (Basic Books, 1999, pp. 105, 108):

The greenest fuels are the ones that contain the most energy per pound of material than must be mined, trucked, pumped, piped, and burnt. [In contrast], extracting comparable amounts of energy from the surface would entail truly monstrous environmental disruption…. The greenest possible strategy is to mine and to bury, to fly and to tunnel, to search high and low, where the life mostly isn’t, and so to leave the edge, the space in the middle, living and green.

Advantage fossil fuels, the sun’s energy work over the ages versus dilute, intermittent energy flow from the sun and wind.


[1] Jonas Kristiansen NølandJuliette AuxepaulesAntoine RoussetBenjamin Perney & Guillaume Falletti, “Spatial Energy Density of Large-scale Electricity Generation from Power Sources Worldwide,” Nature (December 8, 2022)

Abstract: This paper introduces the annual energy density concept for electric power generation, which is proposed as an informative metric to capture the impacts on the environmental footprint…. The results of our systematic analysis indicate that the spatial extent of electric power generation toward 2050 will increase approximately sixfold, from approximately 0.5% to nearly 3.0% of the world’s land area, based on International Energy Agency (IEA) NZE 2050 targets. We investigate the worldwide energy density for ten types of power generation facilities, two involving nonrenewable sources (i.e., nuclear power and natural gas) and eight involving renewable sources (i.e., hydropower, concentrated solar power (CSP), solar photovoltaic (PV) power, onshore wind power, geothermal power, offshore wind power, tidal power, and wave power).

In total, our study covers 870 electric power plants worldwide, where not only the energy density but also the resulting land or sea area requirements to power the world are estimated. Based on the provided meta-analysis results, this paper challenges the common notion that solar power is the most energy-dense renewable fuel source by demonstrating that hydropower supersedes solar power in terms of land use in certain regions of the world, depending on the topography.

Conclusion: This paper revealed that the land and sea requirements for future power generation facilities are currently projected to significantly change by 2050…. A sixfold increase in the spatial extent of the worldwide power generation resulted not only result from the fact that new renewable energies are more challenging to harvest than the existing mix of sources but also from the fact that global electrification will experience a threefold increase by 2050.

Our paper provided evidence that, in a worldwide sense, hydropower is the most energy-dense renewable source. However, this is not the case when one considers certain regions, e.g., where the topography does not favor hydropower generation or in areas where the performance of solar power is much higher than the global average. It must also be emphasized that hydropower exhibited the highest standard deviation among the investigated sources.

The standard deviation of the annual energy density ranged from 0 to 1.67 TWh/km2. The upper standard deviation of hydropower was very close to the lower standard deviation of nuclear power, at 1.88 TWh/km2, but far higher than that of the natural gas population.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, our work also demonstrated that nuclear power exhibits a higher annual generation density than that of natural gas power plants, considering the land occupation of pipelines and mining to feed gas-fired power plants. In this paper, the generation density of a nuclear power plant included the safety surface in addition to the nuclear power plant itself.

While biomass is by far the most dilute renewable energy source, this paper found through a population study of 148 specimens that onshore wind farms are the second most dilute source for power generation based on the assumptions of the spatial extent outlined in this paper. Even though our paper confirmed the order of magnitude in earlier studies, the limitations of the assumptions should be stated. Our calculations considered the total site area where wind farms are distributed.

There occur empty areas between wind turbines that could be utilized for grazing, agriculture, and recreation. When the occupied area of wind power only considers tower footprints and access roads, the specific power could easily increase by at least an order of magnitude. However, this does not fully represent the high spacing between the distributed sources of a wind farm and the low scalability in space-limited regions. High land requirements also generate significant implications for the need for materials and infrastructure to collect energy from wind turbines. There exist potential indirect effects on wildlife and degradation of the quality of landscapes, and the visual footprint is significant throughout the entire area. The wind power performance could be enhanced in the future via technological improvements such as wake steering, which could be used to enhance the annual energy production of spaced turbines in wind farms.

One Comment for “The Infrastructure Overload of Renewable Energies”

  1. Denis Rushworth  

    “Picture an area of land equal to the combined territories of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island — 228,000 square miles in all. That’s the space that could be required to site most of the massive deployments of wind and solar generation…”

    A puzzling statement. Is it based on nameplate capacity of the turbines and panels or their actual predicted electricity generated less the energy needed to convert the output of these machines to usable electricity? Does it assume that the wind and sun will be present enough in those 228,000 square miles to always generate enough electricity to fill the needs of the grid during every moment of every day? If so, where is the weather history data needed to verify that conclusion? Does it assume some form of on-demand backup to fill in gaps in wind and sun? If so, what is the CO2 emission from the backup and how does it compare with the CO2 emission of the combined wind/solar/backup system?

    And on and on. I have seen many such “studies” but none so far has been in sufficient detail to verify that the grid can be satisfied by any combination of wind and solar machinery. I suspect that if studied, the conclusion would be that there is no such possibility in our future, regardless of the number of machines present. The results of current “experiments” on windy King Island and El Hierro Island show quite clearly that wind and solar cannot be made sufficient to get much more than about half of their electricity from a maximized wind/solar system, that a 100% backup is essential, and just getting to that half will increase electricity cost about 10-fold above current prices.

    So even the ridiculous 228,000 square mile figure seems to me to be not ridiculous enough. Even a USA covered with wind and solar machines likely won’t do the job. And the cost? Forgetaboutit!


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