This special interest group is for professionals to connect and discuss all types of carbon-free power alternatives, including nuclear, renewable, tidal and more.


Real Estate and Renewable Energy - The Truth is Out There

image credit: and
Alan Rozich's picture
Director BioConversion Solutions

Providing quantitative sustainability insights using sound technical analyses with a management consulting approach to craft strategies that address the mega-trends that are occurring in the...

  • Member since 2017
  • 61 items added with 45,409 views
  • Sep 30, 2021

Real estate and renewable resources seem like a match made in heaven. Increasingly, REITs or "real estate investment trusts" are leading the charge in deploying renewable energy sources into real estate with both on-site and off-site solutions. However, the preponderance of these efforts tend to solely focus on either solar or wind energy solutions. Unfortunately, these technologies are hampered with egregious land use footprints. Is there a hidden agenda or nefarious rationale that necessitates the investigative gravitas of a Fox Mulder to uncover the reason for the seemingly myopic focus on solar and wind? Probably not. It is perplexing why an industry so dependent on judicious land development is apparently using technologies that are deficient in sustainable land utilization. Marcus Aurelius once said:

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

The real estate industry is keen to be green and sustainable. However, the reality is that without subsidies, the preferred industry choices for renewable energy, solar and wind, struggle financially.

In addition to anemic fiscal performance without subsidies, solar and wind projects are notoriously poor in the category of sustainable land use. An attribute which should be of paramount importance to the real estate industry.

Sacrificing Prime Real Estate for Green Technology?

The United Nations defines sustainable land use as “the use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants, for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long-term productive potential of these resources and the maintenance of their environmental functions.” An analysis of area power density for both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources is shown below.

No alt text provided for this image

Figure references: 1 Powerlink article; 2 Strata 2017; 3,4 AD, 45% & 90% conversion, repsectively; 5 NEI Report 2015


An Overview of Green Energy Options

All energy sources whether fossil fuel or renewable have their own unique strong and weak points. There is a tendency by environmental and sustainability zealots to ignore unsavory features of energy technologies as long as they can be classified as "renewable."

Arguably, if unsavory features impact sustainability characteristics, they must factored into the calculus for technology selection.

Nareit, an advocacy group for the real estate industry, used information obtained from the USEIA that is shown below. They "weigh the costs of installing and operating systems along with the financial incentives and utility costs in the region. Tapping available financial incentives can tip the scales in favor of doing on-site renewable energy projects." Their approach is pragmatic and realistic. However, there are other factors that are worthy of

No alt text provided for this image

consideration in the overall strategy and analyses endeavor.

Analysis of Green Energy Options

The data in the first figure show that the worst energy technologies for sustainable land use are:

  • Ethanol
  • Hydroelectric
  • Wind
  • Solar

The data indicate that ethanol, hydroelectric, solar, and wind rank near the bottom when it comes to sustainable land use.

With high conversion anaerobic digesters, the disparity in land area compared to solar and wind systems is 51 fold and 520 fold, respectively. A 20 MW-Day solar or wind system requires almost 353 and 3,600 acres, respectively, more than RNG systems.


The need to decarbonize the global economy is considerable. Initiatives that reduce GHG emissions, particularly with respect to carbon dioxide emissions, are critical but sustainable land use must be included in the sustainability calculus. Egregiously wasting land that can otherwise be used as valuable real estate for development or for assimilating atmospheric carbon dioxide or both is irresponsible. Finally, it needs to be emphasized that solar and wind must, like other technologies, must remain firmly ensconced in our renewable energy tool kit. But like all technologies, they must be deftly integrated and, where appropriate, interlinked with other renewable systems for optimal performance with a sensitivity to sustainable land use.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 30, 2021

Egregiously wasting land that can otherwise be used as valuable real estate for development or for assimilating atmospheric carbon dioxide or both is irresponsible.

Well said-- which also highlights the need to really utilize the land that isn't prime real estate-- brown fields, former mine sites, etc.-- for renewables. Also raises the stakes of the niche applications where renewables on agricultural land can serve two purposes and maximize the useful output from that land

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Oct 1, 2021

excellent points. brown fields etc now made useful. 

Christopher Neely's picture
Christopher Neely on Oct 1, 2021

Alan, thanks for this, I don't hear many people talking about this very important topic. I remember a few blips on the radar a few years back, begging the question of whether green energy is really green. The production of the infrastructure is one thing but the swallowing of land is something entirely different but just as important. I hope we keep this topic front and center and work better at being intersectional in our land use. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Oct 1, 2021

Alan,  This is a great article.  There are certainly so many factors that we must consider.  Sometimes, as you mention in your article, we overlook some critical elements as we get hung up on "one concept".  I would love to hear from utilities or wind and solar farm operators if they are doing things that minimize the impact on real estate by placing these in areas that Matt mentions in his comment or if they are doing programs in cooperation with farmers etc where land can be shared?  

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Oct 1, 2021

Alan, I'm sorry but to show all land use you have to include the mining of COAL and Nuclear. Those charts and number seem to be lacking. 

Also I have Solar on my roof so it takes no land use. It's reusing wasted space on my roof. 

  Once you get all the FACTS I would like to be the new charts. Thanks for bringing up an interesting subject.


Alan Rozich's picture
Thank Alan for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »