The shift from gasoline to ethanol has caused significant changes in landscapes worldwide, with grasslands and forests being replaced by cornfields. Researchers are currently engaged in a heated debate over the environmental implications of this transformation.
The significant surge in oil and fuel prices in recent years has sparked concerns about reaching or nearing peak oil, where oil extraction starts to decline. This has reignited interest in exploring alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, ocean wave and tidal flow, geothermal, and biofuels. While acknowledging the importance of energy efficiency, lifestyle changes, and economic redesign, adopting these measures would question the fundamental principles of capitalism.
Alternative fuel sources are appealing as they offer a “sustainable,” “ecologically sound,” and “renewable” energy substitute without challenging the existing economic framework. Many hope for quick fixes to address the problem, allowing capitalist societies to sustain their wasteful growth and consumption patterns with minimal disruption.
Despite possible fluctuations in fuel prices due to economic cycles, production rates, or speculative activities in the oil futures market, they are expected to remain historically high given the declining reserves of easily accessible fuel relative to annual demand.
Gavin Mooney helps help utilities transform the way they run and embrace the energy transition with powercloud and he had a great take about this on LinkedIn.
What strikes you first about this US land use chart? The enormous area used for cows? Me too. But I want to focus on the bottom right corner – ethanol.
35 million acres of US land are devoted to growing corn to make #bioethanol. Let’s run some numbers on that:
– 1 acre of corn yields 551 gallons of ethanol per year.
– This is equivalent to 386 gallons of gasoline.
– At 35 mpg that gives 13,500 miles per acre of corn per year
– Average driving distance is also about 13,500 miles per year
➡️ So 1 acre of corn can power 1 ICE vehicle and 35 million acres of corn can power 35 million ICE vehicles.
But what about using SOME of that land for #solar?
– Assume 1 acre can host about 160 kW of solar panels
– Assume a conservative 12% capacity factor
– 24 x 365 x 12% x 160 kW = 168 MWh per acre per year
– EV energy consumption of 250 Wh/mile gives 672,000 miles per acre of solar panels
➡️ So 1 acre of solar panels can power 50 EVs
So we could use one FIFTIETH of these 35 million acres and still power the same 35 million vehicles. And then we’d still have 34,300,000 acres left over to rewild or grow another crop.
What about using ALL that land for solar?
– Multiply 168 MWh per acre per year by the 35 million acres = 5,880 TWh per year
– Total US electricity consumption is 4,000 TWh per year.
➡️ So converting this area to solar could more than power the whole of the US!
And the land wouldn’t be “lost”. With agrisolar, plants can be grown on the land as well.
Of course this ignores practical details like transmission, grid connections, firming, etc. But hopefully the point is clear.
So devoting 35 million acres to corn is a massive waste of resources, not to mention what land was cleared to grow the corn, or how much water is being polluted as a result.
Not only that, but isn’t solar better for the farmers? Offering a highly predictable source of income not subject to the risks of extreme weather or the whims of price volatility?