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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Got Land? The Energy Transition’s Major Issue

  • Available land for the development of renewable energy projects is becoming a bottleneck in several parts of the world.
  • It takes up to nine years in some countries to hand out a permit for a single project, which is incompatible with the EU’s ambitions.
  • Even if permitting in the EU becomes smoother, securing so much available land for hundreds of gigawatts of additional solar and wind power capacity could be a big challenge for Europe.
Solar panels

Forget lithium, cobalt, and nickel—the most crucial resource for the acceleration of solar and wind power generation capacity is the availability of land for renewables development and the associated permitting and biodiversity regulations.

As important as critical minerals are to the energy transition, if countries don’t have enough large tracts of land to deploy the renewables technologies produced from these critical materials, they will be falling short of their own goals of a fast rollout of renewable energy sources. 

Permitting, regulations on biodiversity and protecting the environment, and NIMBYism are constraining the land resource for renewables in Europe and threaten to derail the EU’s targets to significantly increase the share of green energy in its energy consumption.  

EU Targets Fast Renewable Rollout 

Earlier this year, the European Union member states and the European Parliament reached a political agreement to raise the targeted share of renewable energy in the EU’s energy consumption to 42.5% by 2030, up from a current target of 32%. The 42.5% target will be binding – once it becomes law after endorsements by both the EU Council and the European Parliament – while a 45% share of renewable energy in the bloc’s energy consumption by 2030 is an indicative aspirational target under the agreement. 

The provisional agreement also includes accelerated permitting procedures for renewable energy projects, with the goal to fast-track the deployment of renewable energies and allow the EU to become independent from Russian energy sources as soon as possible. 

“Renewable energy deployment will also be presumed to be of ‘overriding public interest’, which would limit the grounds of legal objections to new installations,” according to the deal.  Related: UK Energy Market Regulator To Allow Suppliers To Boost Profit Margins

Implementation of the new rules will be now key to faster wind power development, the WindEurope association said

“Permitting bottlenecks remain one of the biggest barriers for the expansion of wind energy. Without more permits more quickly we just won’t reach the new 42.5% renewables target. The revised Renewable Energy Directive should really help speed things up,” WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson said. 

According to the association, around 80 GW of wind power capacity is currently stuck in permitting procedures across Europe, of which at least 59 GW are onshore. 

It takes up to nine years in some countries to hand out a permit for a single project, which is incompatible with the EU’s ambitions – last year the EU only installed 16 GW of new wind when it actually needs 31 GW every year on average to 2030 to meet its targets, WindEurope noted. 

SolarPower Europe says that “the EU is facing a double challenge of ensuring environmental quality and speed of deployment for secure, sustainable and affordable solar energy,” and notes that Agri photovoltaic PV or floating PV could be part of the solution.  

Land Becomes The Most Valuable Resource

Even if permitting in the EU becomes smoother, securing so much available land for hundreds of gigawatts of additional solar and wind power capacity could be a big challenge for Europe, McKinsey & Company said in a recent report

The EU’s plan REPowerEU has set a target of 1,236 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, requiring more than 700 GW of additional renewable capacity to be added between 2023 and 2030, a threefold increase in annual installations compared with the capacity added from 2014 to 2022, which was around 230 GW, McKinsey analysts have estimated. 

However, finding land available for new developments is becoming an increasingly challenging task. 

“Beyond the technical suitability of the land, which is a hard limiting factor, a significant amount of land in Europe is unavailable for development because of strict regulations,” McKinsey’s analysts wrote. 

“And the land that remains available is often well suited for—and therefore must compete with—other societal or environmental objectives, such as agriculture and biodiversity conservation.” 

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Europe needs a lot of land to meet its solar and wind installation capacity targets. The three biggest EU economies – Germany, France, and Italy – are set to account for around half of the capacity additions to meet the 2040 targets, according to McKinsey. But meeting those targets would require a combined area of additional 23,000 to 35,000 square kilometers of land—equivalent to the size of Belgium. Considering that land will also be needed for bioenergy production with carbon capture and for production of green fuels, the land challenge is growing bigger, McKinsey’s analysts say. 

For example, Germany needs 104 GW of additional onshore wind capacity to meet the 2040 renewable targets, while Italy would need 63 GW of additional solar power capacity to achieve those targets, per McKinsey’s analysis. 

However, in Italy, land for solar PV is restricted because of regulatory limitations on the use of cropland, which accounts for roughly one-third of the total land area and 80% of the total available land after technical constraints. Similarly, in Germany, rules about the distance from settlements and infrastructure for onshore wind vary from state to state, and approximately 60% of the country’s suitable land is eliminated from consideration based on these rules, according to McKinsey.  

Regulations and constraints on land use across Europe limit the availability of land for renewables development, McKinsey says, so “it is important for local communities, businesses, and regulators across Europe to act hand in hand and quickly to ensure that land for renewable-energy development does not become a bottleneck.”

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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