Pardee Center Hosts Seminar on Balancing Solar Development and Conservation Efforts in California

The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future recently hosted a talk by Frank Davis, a professor at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, exploring the interplay between projected future solar energy development and conservation efforts in California’s western Mojave Desert.

Prof. Davis began by providing an overview of current trends in solar energy development. Despite still accounting for just 10 percent of total energy production in the United States, combined solar and wind energy capacity has grown rapidly in the past decade. Due in part to an aggressive state renewable portfolio standard that calls for 30 percent of electricity to be derived from renewables by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, California now accounts for about half of all U.S. solar energy capacity.

Many new solar farms in California generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity from millions of solar panels stretching across thousands of acres. The land use demands for solar energy, Prof. Davis explained, are high compared to most other forms of energy production, leading to habitat loss and fragmentation, altered hydrology and water stress, and other unintended side effects.

As a result, the state established the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) to identify the land in the western Mojave Desert that will avoid, minimize, or mitigate the impacts on undisturbed lands and species of concern. Using spatial models, Prof. Davis’s team developed compatibility maps at site, landscape, and regional scales to consider the impacts of solar energy development on 17 focal species and 22 environmental factors. In addition, they explored impacts based on the historical climate and projected climates and residential build-outs by mid-century. Ultimately, they identified 86,000 hectares to be targeted for solar development.

Watch the video of the full seminar and discussion above.