Solar energy is central to models of environmental sustainability, but not all projects are built the same. One concern in energy development, renewable or otherwise, is the concept of "energy sprawl," which is the dedication of land for energy production and distribution.

Environment California estimates rooftop solar could prevent the development of 148,000 acres of land versus a ground-mounted utility-scale only model. This is based on a state regulator's estimated deployment of 28.5 GW of rooftop solar through 2045 in order to meet clean energy goals. That is an area about half the size of Los Angeles that could be preserved.

Solar is hailed for its ability to be integrated into the built environment, placed on rooftops, integrated into building facades, on carports, etc. However, in order to meet aggressive decarbonization goals and achieve a 100% renewable energy system, ground-mounted solar will be also needed. This is where agrivoltaics, the practice of co-locating solar energy production with agricultural functions, can step in.

Research by Oregon State University found that solar and agricultural co-location could provide 20% of the total electricity generation in the United States. Wide-scale installation of agrivoltaics could lead to an annual reduction of 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions while "minimally" impacting crop yield, the researchers said.

The paper found that an area about the size of Maryland would be needed if agrivoltaics were to meet 20% of U.S. electricity generation. That's about 13,000 square miles or 1% of current U.S. farmland. On a global scale, it is estimated that 1% of all farmland could produce the world's energy needs if converted to solar PV.

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