If the United States starts weaning off of oil and coal and onto homegrown biofuels, renewables, nuclear and other options, how much land will be gobbled up by new forms of energy production? This future “energy sprawl” is calculated in a PLoS ONE paper this week. Biofuels will have the biggest impact, Nature News reports:
“The researchers estimate that regardless of whether the Waxman-Markey bill were enacted, the amount of land affected by energy development by 2030 will be between 21-70 million hectares — an area which is, even at its lower bound, about the size of the state of Wyoming.
“A cap-and-trade bill may have some incremental effect in increasing energy sprawl, but most of the development that’s going to happen is because of other laws that are already in place,” says study author Robert McDonald, a landscape ecologist with The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit environmental organization based in Arlington, Virginia.
Those other laws include the US renewable fuel standard, which requires that the volume of renewable fuel blended into gasoline is increased from 34 billion litres in 2008 to 136 billion litres by 2022. That increase will require an area of between 19 and 31 million hectares — the largest component of McDonald’s projected energy sprawl, despite the fact that biofuels are expected to comprise less than 5% of the country’s total energy budget.
McDonald and co-authors warn that without careful management the sprawl may wreck important habitats and eat into biodiversity. Exotic innovations like algae-based fuels – recently brought into the renewable fuel scheme – could help. But there’s a cheap and obvious option we could look at first, MacDonald notes. To conserve habitat, simply conserve energy.
Read the full story here.