What Does Renewable Energy Look Like?

10 Apr, 2010

[Approx. Read Time: 4 minutes]

If you’ve looked for a comparison in land areas needed for different power sources, I would be willing to bet that you found a lot of numbers and zero pictures.  In order for you to gain a valuable perspective on the amount of land area needed for different energy sources, I feel that a graphical presentation would be more of an eye opener.  In order to do this, I’ve enlisted the help of Google SketchUp. Let’s begin…

(I’ve included the calculation, justification, and references of these numbers at the end of this blog entry.)

Nuclear’s Footprint

For this comparison, I’ve used the largest commercial nuclear reactor on the market–the AREVA 1600 MW EPR.  A nuclear power plant typically has 2 reactor units on site.  Two EPRs take up less than 2 sq. miles of land area. (You can check this out for yourself at the Flamanville or Olkiluoto EPR sites on Google Earth)  Here is what Nuclear’s footprint looks like:


(Nuclear – Isometric View)


(Nuclear – Overhead View)

Solar’s Footprint

By comparison, solar photovoltaic technology requires a little more land area than the AREVA EPR in order to match the EPR’s power output.  According to the US Dept. of Energy and others (Ref. 1), 1,000 MW of electrical capacity requires 11,000 acres of photovoltaic solar panels.  A capacity factor of 0.19 is used for solar photovoltaics (Energy Information Administration, Ref. 2).  Referencing the calculation at the bottom of this blog entry, this means that 3,200 MW of electrical production from solar energy would need approximately 292 sq. miles, or 185,264 acres.  That’s 146 times more land required than the two EPR’s.  To put this into perspective for most Americans, that’s approximately 141,328 football fields.

Here is what solar’s footprint looks like in comparison to Nuclear’s footprint (I’ve inserted three solar panels and enlarged each of them to about 2 sq miles):

solar_scale_3(Solar Photovoltaic – Isometric View)

Try to imagine the entire solar (yellow) footprint covered with solar panels.  Next, try to imagine washing these things every three to four days.


(Solar Photovoltaic – Overhead View)

Wind’s Footprint

Are you ready to look at the land area required for wind energy?  To produce 3,200 MW and match the EPR’s power output, wind turbines require even more land area than solar photovoltaics, and 416 times more land area than two EPR Nuclear reactors.  Again, according to the American Wind Energy Association (Ref. 3), 1,000 MW of electrical capacity requires 50,000 acres of wind turbines operating at full capacity.  But a capacity factor of 0.30  is used for wind turbines (Energy Information Administration, Ref. 2).  Referencing the calculation at the bottom of this blog entry, this means that 3,200 MW of electrical production from wind energy would need approximately 832 sq. miles, or 533,334 acres.  Yes, 832 sq. miles or 533,334 acres.  That’s 402,688 football fields.

Here is what the land area required for wind energy looks like in comparison to the footprints for Nuclear and solar photovoltaic (I’ve got two wind turbines a few hundred times taller than the Empire State building inserted into the model):


(Wind – Isometric View)


(Wind – Overhead View)

The State of Rhode Island has an area of approximately 1,545 sq miles.  Try to imagine counties and counties of wind turbines and solar panels covering the State.  Or you could just look at this picture below.

ri(Rhode Island)

No wonder T. Boone Pickens jockeyed Congress for help with eminent domain issues while executing his plan for using 1,200 sq miles for 4,000 MW of wind power production.  Hopefully, this will be an eye opener to the amount of forests, plains, and desert needed to enable wind and solar energies to compete with nuclear energy in power production.  Until the technology is developed to store the energy produced by wind and solar energies, this is the footprint of land that we will be dealing with.

Calculations and References


I used the commonly accepted <1 sq mi for Nuclear power plants and doubled it to be conservative.  The average capacity factor for Nuclear power plants is 0.90.  Two sq miles envelopes 1.5 sq mi / 0.90 capacity factor = 1.67 sq mi for 3,200 MW.  I also checked against the current EPR footprints in Europe with Google Earth.  You can easily check this for yourself.


11,000 acres / 0.19 = 57,895 acres for 1,000 MW

57,895 acres = 91 sq mi for 1,000 MW

3,200 MW/1,000 MW = 3.2

3.2 x 91 sq mi = 292 sq mi

3.2 x 57,895 acres = 185,264 acres

160 ft x 360 ft = 57,600 sq ft for an American football field (including end zones)

1 sq mi = 27,878,400 sq ft

(292 sq mi x 27,878,400 sq ft) / 57,600 sq ft = 141,328 football fields


50,000 acres / 0.30 = 166,667 acres for 1,000 MW

166,667 acres = 260 sq mi for 1,000 MW

3,200 MW/1,000 MW = 3.2

3.2 x 260 sq mi = 832 sq mi

3.2 x 166,667 acres = 533,334 acres

160 ft x 360 ft = 57,600 sq ft for an American football field (including end zones)

1 sq mi = 27,878,400 sq ft

(832 sq mi x 27,878,400 sq ft) / 57,600 sq ft = 402,688 football fields


1 – US Department of Energy, Office of Utility Technologies, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy & Electric Power Research Institute

2 – US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration

3 – American Wind Energy Association


Editor’s Note:
This article was featured on National Review’s Planet Gore blog. See here.


About the author

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  1. Rich Galen
    August 03, 2009

    The eminent domain that Pickens has been interested in is NOT for a wind farm, it’s for the rights-of-way for the 21st century transmission grid which your nuclear plants will need, too.

    • Carrington Dillon
      August 04, 2009


      I’ve read that he needed help with both, sorry if there is a misunderstanding there. Thanks for keeping me straight. Nuclear plants don’t necessarily need the proposed high-tech transmission lines because nuclear doesn’t have any problems with fluctuations and “noise” from the power it produces. One of the proposed “renewable energy” transmission system’s purposes is basically to prevent fluctuations in power production from blowing out all of our appliances. Although, the power transmission system (grid) is another issue entirely that I hope the country addresses soon before massive brown/blackouts occur on a regular basis. Thanks for the comment though, Rich.


  2. CBDunkerson
    August 04, 2009

    Flaws in this analysis:

    Nuclear: The land estimates do not take into account restrictions on use of the surrounding land. How likely do you think it is that a hospital could be placed just outside that nuclear plant? A residential neighborhood? A school? What about where the radioactive waste is stored? Surely that land area, and the buffer zone around it, needs to be considered too. The nuclear footprint is MUCH bigger than advertised.

    Solar: You assumed photovoltaic rather than the smaller and more cost effective concentrated solar. You also assumed outdated technologies. The efficiency of solar cells continues to increase… resulting in a decreasing area being required for a given power output.

    Wind: Turbines cannot be stacked on top of each other. They need to be widely spaced. That is why wind farms cover a large area. However, they do not USE the entire area they cover… just a tiny segment at the base of each windmill. There is nothing preventing crops, livestock, schools, homes, et cetera from being placed on the land falsely described as ‘used’ in this article. Heck, you could build nuclear and/or solar plants on the same land used for a wind farm.

    • Carrington Dillon
      August 04, 2009


      I didn’t take into account the facilities and transmission lines needed for solar and wind either. I’m comparing apples to apples. New proposed transmission lines, by the way, that would make someone who is against ANWR transmission lines have night tremors. A few countries in Europe have passed laws requiring that residential developments be at least 2km away from a wind turbine because of past accidents like ice throw and broken blades. In contrast, as an example, you can clearly see residential areas within 1 mile of the McGuire Nuclear Plant in Charlotte, NC on Google Maps.


      I’m not using outdated technologies. Concentrated parabolic solar has a capacity factor of 0.15. Solar photovoltaic has a factor of 0.19 and that is what I used. Solar photovoltaic hasn’t become more efficient (This is a common misunderstanding). They have become thinner. But still use the same amount of surface area to generate power, which is about 1 sq meter for each 100 watts.

      Finally, I wouldn’t use the word “tiny” when describing wind turbines. Some have blade spans of 600 ft plus, and therefore, require large bases. And like I mentioned previously, other countries have passed laws requiring at least 2km between turbines and occupied buildings. What prevents people from living under these turbines are issues like shadow flicker and noise. Environmental organizations are currently taking up issue with the effects that wind turbines have on livestock and wild animals as well.

      Thanks for commenting on the website. Hopefully, your comment will start some debate on the issues which is good for us all.


  3. ff11
    August 04, 2009

    Why is Nuclear even mentioned on this page? It is not “clean” OR renewable. Why not mention burning garbage or rubber tires as an energy source while you are at it.

  4. Matthew W
    August 04, 2009

    Let’s just suppose that your calculations are off by 50%. (to satisfy the naysayer’s here)
    It still shows the enormous amount of land needed for “renewable” energy.
    Liberals are famous for “Not In My Backyard”, so where will all of this land come from?
    Face it, we live in a petroleum driven world/economy and will be so until even after it is exhausted and at his time it is IMPOSSIBLE to replace current electrical needs (and future growth) with the hubris driven “alternative energies”.

  5. Michael
    August 04, 2009

    Another common misunderstanding regarding solar technologies is that they require a dedicated area or space in which to work. If we decide to place them on rooftops then their effective ground footprint is zero.

  6. Old Country Boy
    August 04, 2009

    ff11 is wrong. Nuclear power can be clean and renewable if the environmental nitwits will ever educate themselves and not use propaganda sources. We have an easily ameliorated disposal problem and fuel regeneration problem because we (the good ‘ol US of A) doesn’t have derivitaves of fast breeders. The same people that idiotically are against nuclear energy, are the same ones that idiotically won’t let the US reprocess the fuel like the rest of the world does.

  7. Brendon
    August 04, 2009

    ff11, why don’t you do everyone a favor and don’t comment since you have nothing worth reading.

    At the University of Saskatchewan we had Stanford’s former head of Electrical Engineering come give a talk. He talked a bit about energy, and what he said was quite revealing. A lot of technology has been developed as spin-offs of military R&D. Nuclear, in the early days, was considered as a weapon and not a way of producing energy. Thus, all the early R&D of nuclear was focused on the unstable radioactive materials. The stable ones were of no use to the army, so reactors that have the ability to use more stable radioactive isotopes are about 40 years behind the current nuclear reactors. If you’re looking for a long term solution, I would put my money in nuclear R&D, since the possibilities are truly endless. Unlike solar and wind.

    There are also ways of developing reactors that are capable of using spent nuclear rods from current conventional reactors. Again, these reactors need more R&D, but they are possible. To classify nuclear as dirty is a misnomer. “Current” nuclear is dirty, however, if technology is being developed to use the current nuclear waste to generate power and break it down to a virtually harmless state, how can that not be classified as clean?

  8. Rural and Right
    August 04, 2009

    A great article! Where I live in rural Ontario, Canada we are currently seeing excellent farmland (good for growing corn, soy beans, ect) being covered in Solar Panels, resulting in a loss of food production so people in the city can have energy guzzling air conditioning hot tubs and heated swimming pools.

    Our socialist provincial government is also subsidizing the solar farms with taxpayers money because it costs 10 times as much to produce electricity from solar then our other sources (nuclear, water, and coal) Wind farms haven’t been such an issue as the cattle can graze right up to the base, however there are currently issues with peoples heath being affected with the 400 meter minimum from dwellings limit.

  9. J.C.
    August 04, 2009

    Living at the fence line of a typical Nuclear Power Plant over your entire lifespan will expose you to as much incidental radiation as the increased background from one flight at 30,000 ft from New York to L.A.

  10. Bill
    August 04, 2009

    None of it matters. The left isn’t opposed to nuclear or wind or any other power source based on how “clean” it is. They are opposed to anything that is a commercially viable source of energy for a growing population. Nuclear is by far the least expensive, but it is too “unsafe”. Even in the most liberal states they have rejected solar in California (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/21/feinstein-seeks-to-block-_n_177646.html) and wind power in Mass (http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2009/07/20/new_technology_emerges_for_deep_water_wind_farms/).

    The opposition isn’t to any particular source of power – it is to ANY source of power which can be generated on a commercial scale to power a modern industrial society. Environmentalism is attempting to destroy the Industrial Revolution by starving it to death.

  11. Paulie
    August 04, 2009

    Not sure what the point is here. A nuclear plant completely precludes any other use of the land, but I can put solar panels on the roof and a windmill in the yard and still live in the house. I wish somebody would have offered to lease a few acres of my Dad’s farm to build windmills, I might still live on a farm with that extra income. A dozen acres out of 800 woulda been a small price. Put them in the slough it’s free. I bet you could find a crop that will grow in between the rows of solar collectors. And wash them while your at it, since you want to irrigate anyway.

  12. DN
    August 04, 2009

    I recently wrote a report on alternative energy sources for the Government of Canada. Based on actual power generation figures, the capacity factors cited by the EIA are too high.

    The capacity factor for solar cited above (19%) is at the upper end of the average range (12-19% depending on geographical location, weather patterns and average annual insolation. At the lower end of that range, a solar plant would require 50% more land and SPV arrays than calculated above). Similarly, based on figures for installed capacity and annual production of wind power in Denmark (the country with the highest per capita installed wind capacity in the world, although Germany has the highest overall installed capacity), the capacity factor for wind – even in notoriously windy Jutland – is about 22.5%, again at the bottom range cited in government figures (20-40%). Once more, using the capacity factor derived from empirical data from the Danish experience instead of the 30% figure cited above, it would be necessary to increase the area for wind farming calculated above by about 40%.

    Recently, Secretary Chu suggested that the US might one day generate 1 TW using offshore wind turbines. To do this using state-of-the-art 2 MW turbines and a 25% capacity factor would require 2 million turbines deployed in a belt 167 miles thick (you need 500 m between turbines). This belt would stretching 3000 miles from New Brunswick to the Florida Keys. Apart from costing about $9 trillion to install (the Horns Rev project in Denmark cost about $4.5M US per turbine), such an “offshore wind farm” would render bringing a supertanker into an East coast port something of a challenge.

    That $9 trillion price tag, by the way, assumes that putting a turbine in 3000 meters of water in the North Atlantic is no more costly than putting one in 8-14 meters of water in the North Sea.

    The only “alternative energy source” is nuclear.

  13. Margaret Dernier
    August 04, 2009

    The people suggesting the solar panels on your house. You still need a way to get the electricity to the grid. In order to get rid of fossil fuels, and replace with wind and solar, you need a massive grid and the ability to store the energy. Putting it on your roof isn’t going to cut it. And when it rains or you live in a forest, like I do, which gets very little sun, not going to be producing a whole lot of solar energy. And I am not going to cut down my trees to spend boo-koo bucks on solar panels.

    You need a consistent, reliable source of stored energy to provide enough and future energy for the United States if you want to do away with oil for energy. We are still going to need oil for products, i.e., unless you want to work with a wood computer.

    And wind mills, they are the ugliest things I have ever seen and I don’t want to live near them or have to view them.

    My husband (a scientist in the chemical/nuclear field) who has worked in the nuclear industry says that you could live on the fence line of a nuclear power plant and not move for 24 hours-7 days for the rest of your life and you would probably get the same amount of radiation as if you flew from New York to Tokyo, or ate a banana every day, or drank a six-pack of beer every week. Basically, not measurable.

    He also reminded me that you can not create energy, you can only convert energy, which is what solar panels and wind mills do. Per the First Law of Thermodynamics – Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another. The First Law of Thermodynamics (Conservation) states that energy is always conserved, it cannot be created or destroyed. In essence, energy can be converted from one form into another.

    He and some other scientists are working on the issue of when wind enters a wind mill, there is less wind leaving on the other side. If you get enough windmills (how many is the issue) you could effectively convert the majority of wind entering one side of a wind mill farm, and there would be little wind, definitely less, leaving. Could the wind patterns be changed for the area and effectively change the microclimate or even the climate? Climate is hugely influenced by winds.

    The other thing to consider is with climate change, what if we put up a gazillion wind mills, the microclimate changes, and there is not enough wind, then we have to tear down the windmills and move them?

    From a cost effective viewpoint, it is better to put solar panels in a terrain like a desert where there is more sun per year. Oh, you cannot plant between solar panels, you would fry the plants. The size of the solar panels in the desert would/is great and the solar panels absorb or take the sun heat hitting them, thus reducing the sun and heat from hitting the desert floor. This could also over time change the microclimate.

    Nuclear is the best option for massive energy requirements that the U.S. needs to maintain a healthy and comfortable dictator-free life.

  14. August 04, 2009

    Carrington, I think your capacity factor for wind at .3 is a little too generous. Doing the calculations on the EIA website, I find wind has an average capacity of .25.

    Also, while this illustrates the comparative footprints, in reality wind farms will typically be installed in smaller groups and thus would “pepper” the landscape in hundreds of communities in order to reach any significant generation. Given the NIMBY reaction to wind turbines thus far this adds to the many significant impediments to wind expansion.

  15. Dr. Dan Ulseth
    August 04, 2009

    Paulie: “the point here” is to give a pictorial representation of the land-use footprint of these competing energy sources. It should be obvious that the nuclear source is the most dense, least land-use intensive (including the storage of spent nuclear fuel for decades), most able to tie into the current grid and uses the least total construction material of them all. Those 300 foot-high “windmills” aren’t made of hemp.

    I work in the solar panel industry. We are installing a 12 kW system on a home in Malibu with battery back-up that will cost nearly $200k when it’s all said and done. That’s $16.66 per watt (or $16,660 per kilowatt). This client wants to, and can, afford it. Most others can’t.

    Consider this: US Navy submarines are nuclear-powered. The submariners live, eat, breathe, sleep and work adjacent to and totally dependent upon the functioning and reliability of that nuclear reactor. They are contained within that vessel for weeks and months at a time. Do you think, after 40 years of use, there would be even one sailor who would have blown the whistle by now if there was a problem with that situation?

    Look into Hyperion Power Modules, NuScale, B&W mPower, Adams Atomic Engines, Toshiba 4S and others as examples of the new mini-nukes that can range from 10 MWe to 125 MWe. Also, go to energyfromthorium.com for additional info on the newer, scalable designs that consume spent nuclear fuel. Get informed, my agricultural friend. Once you are, if you’re intellectually honest, there’s no turning back to your old ways of thinking.

  16. Dr. Dan Ulseth
    August 05, 2009

    ff11: Nuclear power stations are near-zero emission sources of electric energy. Only hydro-electric dams are similar in that respect. The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR – pronounced “Lifter”) can use many sources of fuel to generate electricity, desalinate ocean water and create liquid fuels from various feedstocks, including algae. See http://www.originoil.com for a demonstration of that technology.

    The spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from Light Water Reactors (among the most common in current use) can be recycled and re-burned, in fact, the LFTR can generate more energy than it takes in from the fuel source, so it’s considered a “breeder” reactor. Go to http://www.energyfromthorium.com.

    We already burn garbage and, in some cases, tires (at least there is a tire-burning power plant in central California, near Westly) and even those sites catch grief from environmentalists, who seem never to be satisfied. Or, in the words of Michelle “My Belle” Obama, “They keep raising the bar on you.”

    Also, go to http://www.coal2nuclear.com to get some serious math calculations on what it takes to eliminate coal-fired power plants from spewing particulates and sulfur dioxides. Just some food-for-thought, in case you’re hungry.

  17. Tim P
    August 05, 2009

    “Nuclear: The land estimates do not take into account restrictions on use of the surrounding land. How likely do you think it is that a hospital could be placed just outside that nuclear plant? A residential neighborhood? A school?”

    Bunk. Just travel around the Ohio River valley near Gallipolis and see the nuke plants along side communities. Look at photos of the same throughout France, Japan and Britain.

    “What about where the radioactive waste is stored? Surely that land area, and the buffer zone around it, needs to be considered too. The nuclear footprint is MUCH bigger than advertised.”

    Again bunk, especially with new types of reactors like Pebble Bed Reactors which produce far less waste.

    “Solar: You assumed photovoltaic rather than the smaller and more cost effective concentrated solar. You also assumed outdated technologies. The efficiency of solar cells continues to increase… resulting in a decreasing area being required for a given power output.”

    And you neglected to think about the extremely noxious chemicals used in the production of all solar cells. This will produce a toxic waste problem that will dwarf nuclear.

    “Wind: Turbines cannot be stacked on top of each other. They need to be widely spaced. That is why wind farms cover a large area. However, they do not USE the entire area they cover… just a tiny segment at the base of each windmill. There is nothing preventing crops, livestock, schools, homes, et cetera from being placed on the land falsely described as ‘used’ in this article. Heck, you could build nuclear and/or solar plants on the same land used for a wind farm.”

    Again, you do not have a clue about what you are talking about. Let me give you some perspective as an electrical engineer who has some familiarity with such installations. Each wind generator must be connected through conductors, i.e. wiring. To aggregate the power, the windmills will have to be paralleled together. Paralleling requires that all of the wind generators be synchronized. This requires additional equipment. To transmit or distribute the electricity requires it be stepped up to voltages in the kilo-volts. That means transformers, breakers, etc. You don’t allow the public near this equipment any more than you allow them into a sub-station. The liability alone would be eye-popping. Only trained qualified personnel would be allowed in the immediate vicinity. Additionally, there will be equipment, vehicles and buildings for on-going maintenance operations. So the utility would have to own or lease and be able to secure the land. What they did with it would be their business. This means an even larger footprint for wind. Additionally, you would not put a large wind generator in a residential neighborhood. If a blade broke and fell on a house it would be a nightmare. Imagine ongoing maintenance with trucks, cranes and other equipment in the middle of your neighborhood. Blades can be over two-hundred feet long on large units, what happens when one cracks or breaks, and they do.

  18. Logan
    August 05, 2009

    What a great discussion! It’s great to see some of the myths being dispelled.

  19. Phil Howerton
    August 05, 2009

    Although you did not mention it, both Solar and wind, because of their intermittent capacity and potential damage to electrical equipment, require backup generating facilities, usually natural gas. Studies from the Texas windfarm has revealed, as I recall, a something like 7% reliability and Texas has been unable to sell even that amount because of the increased costs of wind power generation. Denmark is forced to buy power from its nuclear neighbors. Solar and wind, on a large scale, are mad dreams.

    Incidentally, I was not aware that solar panels had to be cleaned on a regular basis. That, however, seems logical. Although not strictly a subject of your post, the amount of steel and concrete required to manufacture and install a single wind mill is staggering. And that’s just on dry ground. I would also note that T. Boone has apparently abandoned his windmill scheme and is now promoting propane on the radio.

  20. Ben Z.
    August 05, 2009

    Phil: As a resident of the Texas Panhandle, I can assure you that billionaire T. Boone Pickens’ motivation has little or nothing to do with the environmental concerns discussed above and everything to do with a struggling world economy, a corresponding low price of oil, and lack of assurances of transmission availability. Straight from the horse’s mouth: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32283162/ns/business-motley_fool/.

  21. Doc_Navy
    August 06, 2009

    Tim P is exactly right.
    One of the FAVE excuses of the Alarmists about wind energy is the “You could plant crops in between the Wind Turbines” fantasy. Which of course is a total pipe dream. They forget the amount of space around each turbine needed to perform repairs and maintennence. (Approx 75ft radius from the edge of the base, as I remember) Then there are the access roads that need to connect to EVERY SINGLE TURBINE. Even if you made it a single lane gravel road that makes it extremely difficult to use a combine to tend to and harvest said imaginary crops. Then there are all the other buildings that Tim brought up, plus the connecting lines between each turbine. Yeeah, planting crops on a wind farm… not gonna happen.

    And the “Well, we could just put them in everyones backyard” scenario. All I have to say about that is look at how willing folks are RIGHT NOW to put that kind of stuff in their backyard!! Ever heard of NIMBY? Yeah, it’s ingrained into the left mindset. They want it, and they want it now… just not anywhere that they can actually SEE it. So it needs to go into YOUR backyard, not theirs.

  22. Before Gore Kneel
    August 06, 2009

    About wind farms, not only the collection points are separated, but they are also linked by a road and copper wire. So you essentially cover the landscape with a net of crappy roads, given to erosion and so on — lots of herbicide and dubious maintenance — and of course a network of transmission lines to some distribution aggregation point(s) and then counter-balancing another fanning out to the ultimate users. Good plan for using a lot of copper and destroying the concept of landscape.

    But not to worry, just make sure they are no closer than about 2 miles north of where you live and work. 5 miles is better.

    Of course, there’s migrating flocks of birds and sundry bat populations to consider. Properly done, a wind farm ought to be able to attrit any flying population that attempts to traverse it. Good for bugs and mammalian vermin that live on the bird parts from heavens. (As long as they can cope with the sound and shadows of the mills. Sheep sometimes can’t handle the sound, and eventually die from lack of sleep and bad nerves.) But think of wind farms as a land-based demostration of the Curse of the Commons, ie why overfishing always happens. Except this time you’re going after birds, disturbed sheep aside.

  23. Ron Zebal
    August 07, 2009

    While we’re preparing to ramp up Helium3 Fusion from robotic mined and processed moon soil, and downloading our energy from orbiting solar collectors, breeder reactors are a sensible solution to our energy needs. When it comes to science, why have we been lagging for 40 years? Good analysis Carrington. You are making your Aunt Judith in Williamsburg proud. We have a new unit going in at the Surry Nuclear Plant here in Virginia, far better than burning coal!

  24. Jeff Crane, PE, LEED AP
    August 12, 2009

    Great article Mr. Dillon! You do an excellent job offering the context, scale and reality that aren’t always associated with the “renewables” crowd or their ignorant cheerleaders in the media and politics.

    Attached is an article I recently wrote on this subject. I welcome any feedback!

    Jeff Crane, PE, LEED AP


  25. Ed Steinbeck
    August 14, 2009

    I live within 10 miles of the Surry Nuclear Plant and it does not bother me at all. I would rather live near this plant than to have wind farms near me. What about aircraft carriers that are powered by nuclear power they have crews, hospital and resturants. Thank goodness the military feels very safe living VERY close to a Nuclear Reactor.

  26. John M
    August 17, 2009

    After inventing nuclear power here in the US, the rest of the world has made the decision to use our invention in much greater quantities than we have. See France, Japan etc. The raw material (uranium) is cheap and will never run out. The power plants have no emissions. They run for 60 years or more. If our politicians can get out of the way we can re-use the fuel over and over again. See France, Japan etc. If you are really interested in this subject read “The Power To Save The World, The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens.

  27. JOhn B
    August 20, 2009

    Great explanation Mr Dillon of the practicalities of different power generation – thank you – and interesting follow-up comments.

    Here’s one fact not yet mentioned which might be of interest. France, where I live, generates 87.5% (2008) of its electricity from nuclear. France is a net exporter -18% (100TW)- of electricity to Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Italy. France’s electricity prices are the lowest in Europe and its carbon emissions per kW are 10% of those of UK and Germany and 7.5% of wind-mill covered Denmark.

    There have been no nuclear accidents, or problems with nuclear waste or health.

    It is curious why such a model as France is not now as a matter of urgency being copied elsewhere by Governments who claim reducing carbon emissions is so urgent. Next door Germany is in fact shutting down its nuclear industry completely and replacing it with brown-coal fired power stations – just about the dirtiest you can have.

    It’s a funny old World.

  28. David in San Diego
    August 24, 2009

    But what about all that land that will be made unpristine by the introduction of solar panels or wind farms?

  29. Groucho Clarity
    October 05, 2009

    Great idea – how about making pictures that show the hardware to the same scale?
    I think a picture showing the 6000 wind turbines to scale alongside the two nukes would be nice. It’s a bit confusing to have your turbines so off-scale, whereas the nukes were correctly scaled for their piece of land.

  30. Carrington Dillon
    October 05, 2009

    Great point, Groucho. I did try to do what you are suggesting; however, my home computer could hardly run with so many models loaded into the program. Typical. I have been considering revising and re-releasing this post along with other “visually” intensive posts from other CEI contributors comparing nuclear to other sources.

    Thanks for checking in. Come back to see us again.


  31. Laura
    March 17, 2010


    I have just found your blog, if it is not too late to reply. I was wondering, specifically where you found this: According to the US Dept. of Energy and others (Ref. 1), 1,000 MW of electrical capacity requires 11,000 acres of photovoltaic solar panels. on the US. Department of Energy website? Is it something that you have calculated through their information or some direct representation of something on their website? I was looking for other credible resources for information that would give me a land size to power generation ratio. Do you have any advise?

  32. David606
    August 24, 2010

    Great article, including the blogs. In answer to Laura, please see this article on a recent development in Ohio http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Ohios_Largest_Solar_Farm_999.html
    It produces 12 MW (peak) on 80 acres (solar panels only). However, a related article points out the 12 MW becomes 10 MW when converted to usable form. So if that figure is scaled, you get 10 MW = 80 acres, and 1,000 MW = 8,000 acres, very close to the 11,000, which probably makes other assumptions about average cloud cover, etc. I’d go with the 11,000. I typically use a “use factor” of 0.25, meaning the 12 MW would on average equate to 3 MW; however after reading the more-informed blogs above, I think I’ll drop that to 0.16 in future analysis, which no doubt takes into account average usable sunlight, bad weather, structure, associated buildings, etc. That figure equates to a just under four hours of direct usable sunlight every single day of the year. Bottom line: To create 1,000 MW of average power, you need 11,000/0.16 = 69,000 acres.

    If anyone thinks solar power or wind power can make anything more than a slight dent in the country’s future energy needs, they need to take a basic course in algebra (or even simple math).

    Thanks for the article Carrington.

  33. Brian
    October 06, 2011

    10 square mile per GW at 15%. 3 GW of solar requires 30 square miles, not 292. 6,666 acres power GW, not 11k. you even got the conversion between acres and square miles wrong, it’s 640 acres per square mile. So let’s say you need spacing for you panels, and it does take 11k acres per GW, that’s 33K acres, not 185k acres.

    On the nukes, most nukes have protective areas around them since they are terrorist targets, and waste hazards, more like 1000 acres per 500MW reactor, and we have discovered the danger of crowding reactors.

    Now add in all the mining and waste area needed

    and it’s a ridiculous comparison,

    rooftop solar solar uses Zero land. Period.

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