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July 22, 2011

Solar on Land Scarred by Mountaintop Removal

Coal to solar

Dan Hofmann, President of RegenEn Solar LLC in Kentucky, recently wondered, if solar panels were installed over all the land decimated by mountaintop removal, how much clean energy could that generate? The idea brings to mind what's been floating around in the Northeastern states -- planting solar panels on their vast landfills.

Estimates say 897 square miles in Kentucky have been surface mined "and more than 293 mountains have been severely impacted or destroyed by MTR coal mining." Using the fact that the Bluegrass State gets an average 4.5 hours of sunlight a day, and Kentuckians consume 89,351,000,000 kWh per year, Hofmann concludes that

to produce that much electricity in one year from PV solar panels in this region, around 190 square miles of land would need to be covered by a 69.1 GW (gigawatt) solar array. And, 897 square miles of land has been flattened by MTR. Therefore, if we merely put PV solar panels on 1/5th of our already cleared land, we would supply ALL of the electricity needs for the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky! If we covered the entire 897 square miles of cleared MTR space in Kentucky, we could supply nearly 10% of the electricity needs of the entire U.S.

That's a mighty big solar array.

Hofmann's most recent column in greentechmedia.com digs more deeply into how Kentucky could conceivably transition from coal to solar as energy consumption elevates during future decades. "If we start by adding roughly 1 gigawatt of solar each year and increase that amount by 7% per year for 40 years, we could achieve a net-zero carbon economy by the year 2050, powered entirely by solar PV," he writes. Read the whole thing. As the article notes, the number of potential jobs this kind of shift to solar would bring in is remarkable.

(Image courtesy Dan Hofmann.)

-- Brian Foley


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