The amount of land France, Germany and Italy require to meet their renewable energy capacity targets is equivalent to the size of Belgium, research by McKinsey & Company has found.
Land availability could be one of the limiting factors in expanding Europe’s renewable energy resources, which the continent needs if it is to reach its ambition to become climate neutral by 2050.
According to research by McKinsey & Company, more than 90 per cent of the targeted additional capacity will need to be supplied by wind and solar – two sources of energy which require large tracts of usable land.
In addition, land will also need to serve as a source of biogenic CO2 (easily replenished sources of carbon, such as wood and other biofuels) for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage and the production of e-fuels.
This poses a significant challenge, since a large percentage of land in European nations is protected by strict environmental regulations, particularly those that regulate the minimum distance between settlements and turbines, as well as environmental laws.
In Germany alone, these restrictions affect 82 per cent of the potentially available land, while less than 1 per cent of land in Italy can host solar panels without limitations.
“The role that land availability plays in the energy transition cannot be underestimated, but we must also consider that land availability is crucial to other societal and environmental objectives, such as agriculture and biodiversity conservation,” said Raffael Winter, partner at McKinsey.
“This creates increased competition for what are all extremely important issues. It’s vital for businesses and regulators across Europe to act hand in hand to ensure that RES development is land-efficient and biodiversity-enhancing by harnessing deployment strategies that can ensure sustainability and promote a comprehensive approach.”
The amount of land needed by the three European countries to meet their 2040 energy targets impacts an area equivalent to the size of Belgium (23,000 to 35,000 square km).
In April, a report from the UK’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEISC) called on the government to “rapidly” increase the generation of fossil fuel-free electricity or risk facing limits to the volume of electric vehicles and heat pumps that can be powered through low-carbon electricity.
The body said that, at the current pace, the UK is risking its efforts to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, while also being stuck paying more for energy.
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