Energy Efficiency vs. Desert Destruction

It is easy to overlook the power each individual can exercise simply by switching off lights that are not being used, upgrading appliances, or unplugging your cell phone charger.  A July 2009 study by McKinsey and Company found enormous energy efficiency potential in the United States, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory packaged that data in a map that helps us understand just how much money and electricity we could be saving if we lived more sustainably and built more efficient homes and appliances.

The 30 cities with the most potential energy efficiency savings could cut a combined 261,107 gigawatt hours (GWh).  To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of shutting down dozens of dirty fossil fuel plants.   That energy savings is also the equivalent of nearly 241 desert-destroying solar projects like BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar facility, which has already decimated 5.6 square miles of pristine Mojave Desert habitat.

[click on image to expand] This map by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows potential savings from energy efficiency across the United States. 
Why are we destroying grasslands in Wyoming, and desert in California for industrial-scale solar and wind projects when we could be pursuing more sustainable options to combat fossil fuels? 

It is just as easy to overlook the energy generation potential in our cities.  Rooftops, parking lots, and other already-disturbed lands.  Another set of graphics from NREL shows how many rooftops were adorned with solar panels since 2000.   Even without proper incentives, the market has spread considerably, adding over 160,000 installations and generating over 2,600 megawatts.  That is more than five times the output of the destructive Ivanpah Solar project in the desert.

White dots represent rooftop or other local solar panel installations.  You can watch the video at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's website.
Check out the time lapse video below of a solar installation over a parking lot.  How many parking lots could use some of these?  Why are we destroying peaceful desert landscapes when the wastelands in our cities could use a makeover?

Environmental groups have lined up to support giant industrial-scale solar and wind projects on wildlands, such as a Wyoming wind facility that is expected to kill as many as 64 golden eagles each year, yet we have so much more potential to make our country more sustainable before sacrificing such natural treasures.


  1. Shaun,
    I write to thank you for your incisive writing. I'm just back from driving (again) from the desert to Cheyenne Wyoming, and I met briefly with the fellow who manages a billion dollars in bonding authority for a quasi-governmental outfit called the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. He gets it from all sides, poor fellow: the coal industry (which he is supposed to support) hates him for supporting wind energy, the wind and solar people hate him for supporting coal, and the environmentalists just hate him and the idea of his agency (which is charged with smoohing the way for Anschutz and others to build some massive power transmission lines to pull wind and other energy out of Wyoming). I was glad to see you mention the Wyoming grasslands in this recent post. We must understand this as a West-wide problem: the desert lives or dies based not only on what we in the desert do, but on what is going on in the region, and at the Federal level, too. Following those corporate energy use projections and using those to predict future loads is a hungry fox guarding our common chicken house. Thanks for your work.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How Many Plants Species in the Desert?

Mowing Vegetation as Mitigation: Trump Administration Practice Goes Unchallenged

The Absurdity of the Cadiz Water Export Scheme