Energy Sprawl

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Term or phrase Energy sprawl
Status wired
Notes “Energy sprawl” is a term meant to draw attention to habitat destruction, and to warn that biofuels in particular will take up substantial amounts of land. It was coined by authors of a 2009 paper commissioned by The Nature Conservatory called Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America.

The authors predict that by 2030, energy production in the United States will occupy a land area larger than Minnesota — in large part owing to the pursuit of domestic clean energy.

The authors conclude, "the possibility of widespread energy sprawl increases the need for energy conservation, appropriate siting, sustainable production practices, and compensatory mitigation offsets."

Related terms
Keywords climate, impact, energy


Resource description Citation: McDonald RI, Fargione J, Kiesecker J, Miller WM, Powell J (2009) Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America. PLoS ONE 4(8): e6802. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006802

Abstract: Concern over climate change has led the U.S. to consider a cap-and-trade system to regulate emissions. Here we illustrate the land-use impact to U.S. habitat types of new energy development resulting from different U.S. energy policies. We estimated the total new land area needed by 2030 to produce energy, under current law and under various cap-and-trade policies, and then partitioned the area impacted among habitat types with geospatial data on the feasibility of production. The land-use intensity of different energy production techniques varies over three orders of magnitude, from 1.9–2.8 km2/TW hr/yr for nuclear power to 788–1000 km2/TW hr/yr for biodiesel from soy. In all scenarios, temperate deciduous forests and temperate grasslands will be most impacted by future energy development, although the magnitude of impact by wind, biomass, and coal to different habitat types is policy-specific. Regardless of the existence or structure of a cap-and-trade bill, at least 206,000 km2 will be impacted without substantial increases in energy efficiency, which saves at least 7.6 km2 per TW hr of electricity conserved annually and 27.5 km2 per TW hr of liquid fuels conserved annually. Climate policy that reduces carbon dioxide emissions may increase the areal impact of energy, although the magnitude of this potential side effect may be substantially mitigated by increases in energy efficiency. The possibility of widespread energy sprawl increases the need for energy conservation, appropriate siting, sustainable production practices, and compensatory mitigation offsets. Editor: Juan A. Añel, Universidade de Vigo, Spain

Received: March 13, 2009; Accepted: August 7, 2009; Published: August 26, 2009

Copyright: © 2009 McDonald et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The authors were financially supported by The Nature Conservancy (R.I.M, J.F., J.K., J.P.) and Northwestern University (W.M.M.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Resource url http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006802


Resource description Kate Galbraith, "Study Warns of 'Energy Sprawl', The New York Times, 26 August 2009.
Resource url http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/study-warns-of-energy-sprawl/


Resource description Robert Bryce, "The Gas Is Greener," The New York Times, 8 June 2011
Resource url http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/opinion/08bryce.html
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