Energy Sprawl—Yet Another Unintended Consequence


The online journal PLOS One published an interesting new study last week in which researchers try to quantify in various scenarios just how much land will be needed by 2030 to produce renewable energy, a.k.a. energy sprawl. They find:

Regardless of climate change policy, the total new area affected by energy production techniques by 2030 exceeds 206,000 square kilometers in all scenarios, an area larger than the state of Nebraska (emphasis added). Biofuels have the greatest cumulative areal impact of any energy production technique, despite providing less than 5% of the U.S. total energy under all scenarios. Biofuel production, and hence new area impacted, is similar among scenarios because EIA's economic model suggests that, under current law, incentives for biofuel production cause expansion of this energy production technique regardless of climate policy.

The authors say "regardless of climate change policy" because massive biofuel production was mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Below is a chart summarizing their findings. Note that even more land will be needed to produce renewable fuels under a carbon cap-and-trade scheme.

Who knew that mandating and subsidizing renewable fuels would mean taking more land from nature? Well, I did, for one.