Sometimes, what seems to be wasted space isn't.
Take road medians, rights-of-ways, military bases and airports for example. More studies are showing those regions, which are often off limits or seemingly unusable, could be sites for placing solar arrays, wind turbines or crops for biofuel.
This NPR story talks about the huge potential for solar arrays on the vast expanses of military bases. This suggests lining roadways with solar panels, and this USDA report, released in January, says locating alternative power at airports could be an ideal compromise to habitat and land conflicts that plague renewable energy projects.
From the report: "with careful planning, locating alternative energy projects at airports could help mitigate many of the challenges currently facing policy makers, developers, and conservationists. "
It makes sense. Wildlife isn't wanted at airports, and development of property in the flight path is discouraged. Officials at my hometown airport in Fresno, Calif., were way ahead of the game when they had solar panels installed in 2008.
The panels, placed on land near runways that was previous unusable, are shaving millions off the power bill. The USDA report showcases the Fresno installation and notes it supplies about 60% of the airport's power. Any surplus energy is resold.
Read more here. Meadows Field in Bakersfield and Denver International Airport also have solar arrays.
The USDA study says airports are "one of the few land holdings where reductions
in wildlife abundance and habitat quality are necessary and socially acceptable, and where regulations discourage traditional (crop) production." (Did you know economic losses from wildlife/aircraft collisions are estimated at $600 million annually in the United States?)
Authors of the USDA report, while citing the solar airport examples, note they are not aware of any biofuel production at airports. That could be because officials are afraid the crops would attract wildlife. However, several airports already lease land to farmers who grow such crops as corn. And opportunity exists, at least in terms of land size. The study found that only 10% of the 50 U.S. states had median farm sizes larger airport grasslands.
The authors also note that turf near runways sometimes attract geese and other birds. The report suggests that converting that land to switchgrass or other types of cellulosic feedstock could be an option. "Field research likely could identify productive biofuel crops that, from a wildlife perspective, are compatible with safe airport operations," the authors state, citing other studies.
For more, here is a CleanTechnica post that serves as a good overview.
We're starting to see much more in this area. Solar, for example, is showing up on farms, on roadway pilot projects, on parking garages, city wastewater treatment plants, and on county jails and state prisons. The military is going full speed ahead on renewables, while corporate America, professional sports (hello, baseball season) and others are moving ahead on sustainability programs.
Watch for solar and other types of renewable energy to show up in even more places. Wouldn't it be great if this nation took a space race approach, as my colleague put it so well in this blog, to clean energy and energy efficiency?
Fresno airport solar savings graphic provide by City of Fresno