Carpe Diem

Inconvenient fact: To produce the same energy, a windfarm requires 725X more land than a fracking site

energyProfessor David MacKay, Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, recently conducted a study to answer the question: How would the footprint of a shale gas operation compare with the footprint of wind and solar operations to deliver the same quantity of energy over a 25 year period? Prof. MacKay’s results are displayed above and here are a couple of his key findings:

1. For the “land area of the whole facility,” a wind farm requires 725 times more land than a fracking site to produce the same energy (9.5 TWh) — 1,450 hectares for a wind farm with 87 328-foot tall turbines (about 3,500 acres or 5.6 square miles) vs. 2 hectares (about 5 acres).

2. A solar park requires 462 times more land area than a fracking site: 924 hectares (about 2,290 acres or about 3.5 square miles).

What can we conclude from these results?

According to Prof. MacKay, “Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no silver bullet ­– no energy source with all-round small environmental impact. If society wants to use energy, it must get its energy from somewhere, and all sources have their costs and risks. I advocate deliberative conversations in which the public discuss the whole energy system and look at all the options.”

See related news report here from The Telegraph.

21 thoughts on “Inconvenient fact: To produce the same energy, a windfarm requires 725X more land than a fracking site

  1. Interesting. Does the study also state how many acres a wind farm would need to replicate the amount of pollution, toxic wastes, and earthquakes generated by fracking?

    • Making 725 times more land unusable for anything else is pollution. And in case you didn’t know, the process to build many of those windmills can be pretty toxic with all sorts of toxic materials being used. Lastly, no evidence exists that links fracking to earthquakes; as with most things “environmentalists” say, this was just another in a long string of fear mongering with zero evidence for support.

      • It takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce just 1 kilogram of meat. Is meat pollution? Space isn’t an issue in the United States. We have lots of it.

        • @David
          > It takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce just 1 kilogram of meat.

          try again.

          Poultry has a feed conversion ratio of 2 to 1. Chicken Farmers of Ontario base their Cost of Production on a FCR of 1.72. Tegel Poultry of New Zealand have reported FCR as low as 1.38 on a consistent basis.”

          The resulting meat can be more nutritionally dense than the feed. The animals are also being fed stuff you couldn’t digest. As far as what you could digest, not everyone wants to be on a high-carb diet, and not everyone wants to be on a diet high in inflammation-promoting omega-6 fatty acids. Feeding this junk through animals detoxifies it for us.

      • Wind farms are very dangerous to birds. Solar farms change the local heat patterns, must be vary far away from the end user, so has high wastage.

        Unmentioned is generation 4 nuclear power or Liquid Thorium Fission Reactors. Both are safe, produces very little waste and is non proliferating. LFTR uses up Thorium which is about as available as lead or tin. U235 is like burning up silver.

      • The land in and around a wind farm is hardly unusable as the article suggests. We have 2 wind towers on our farm and farm corn, soybeans, and wheat all around the towers. Very little land is lost per tower

    • nat gas is quite low in pollution.

      and the total damage done by fracking induced earthquakes to date is what? 0? there is not even any solid evidence that is real.

      and for toxic materials, clearly you have no idea what goes into a wind turbine.

      you think that neodynium magnets grow on trees?

      there are 750 pounds of rare earth minerals in a 2 mw turbine.

      mining such materials creates radioactive waste on about a 1:1 basis.

      the wind industry produced more radioactive waste that the us nuclear industry in 2012.

      oh and:

      “one ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, [and] approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater.”

      btw, 75 cubic meters is about 20,000 gallons.

      so, in answer to your question, one acre would be more than sufficient for wind farms to greatly exceed the toxic materials produced by fracking.

  2. No silver bullet yet…We, of course, can’t know with certainty the future. 200 years ago, one may have said there was no silver bullet for whale oil, but then kerosene and oil came about, thus saving the whales. I don’t know what the Next Big Thing will be (if I did, my money would be there for damn sure) but I am sure it will have the same effect oil did. To paraphrase Edison, we made oil so cheap that only the rich ride horses. What will be the next thing? “We made X so cheap, only the rich burn oil.”

  3. Isn’t the best place for wind turbines either offshore, or on mountains, or very far north?

    In all cases, that is area that cannot be used for anything else anyway (and in the case of offshore turbines, not land at all).

        • The boats can maneuver around the wind turbines, as the blades are pretty high up.

          I agree, that those don’t sound like an insurmountable problem. I’ll bet there’s something else that is.

        • Those turbines don’t float, do they? No, they are built on stands. Those stands are in the water. Specifically, smack dab in some of the best fishing grounds in the world. The noise chases off the fish, and the stands have ruined these grounds.

          These schools are now dispersed over a wider area, making it less profitable to fish. Couple it with onerous limits and restrictions placed by the government, an you have lots of people who can no longer make a living.

          Don’t be stupid.

  4. In West Tx and eastern new mexico the land has little other use, lots of it is just natural vegetation. Note that if you happen to own land where wind turbines can be installed as a rancher or a cotton farmer the payments for the use of the land are found money and much more profitable than running cattle on the equivalent area, not as much as but still better than growing cotton, plus saving the water for other uses.
    In one sense wind turbines on land have the same forces backing them as drilling on private land, benefit for the community. I invite folks to drive from Winters Tx up Tx 153 to Tx 70 to Sweetwater, and see if the turbines really hurt the landscape.

  5. A second comment natural gas example needs some land for the power plant as well reducing the foot print ratio. The wind turbine produces the highest value energy electricity, In addition compared to a wind turbine a the natural gas system captures at best 60% of the input energy as electricty, while the output of the turbine is 100 % electricity, as Mr Carnot has been bypassed. So in terms of electric output the ratio is likley nearer 350 before the plant area is considered. In rural areas the pipelines do not really inhibit most annual plantings, or grazing so that washes out.
    But the main point is going north from Sweetwater Tx to the Canadian border there is a lot of empty land to use for wind with grazing still working as well.

  6. Yes; Wind and solar take up land; but it’s usually desolate, semi-desert land that’s also the best sources for wind and consistent sunshine.
    Once mined, the ingredients for solar and wind are no longer an issue; and since they have few moving parts, their lifespan is long.
    Any fuel means two things that wind and solar don’t produce; heat and Carbon dioxide (along with many other waste gasses).
    Burning fuels – even those we produce from animal wastes – has to stop if we are to slow anthropomorphic climate change.

    We need to go to solar as a primary and solar’s secondary energy sources, wind and water flow (either from dammed rivers or from ocean currents) if we are to slow down climate change.

    If you deny climate change, sea level rise, and desertification, you’re just not looking at the facts (or getting wealthy from fossil fuels).

  7. Could someone…anyone…please tell me how many revolutions of a wind turbine is required to break even on the $1.5 million dollars it takes to install just one of these War of the Worlds contraptions? How many years to produce enough energy to not need a tax subsidy? How many years before the bearings fry and the whole thing has to be replaced?

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