Land-use intensity of electricity production and tomorrow's energy landscape

PLoS One. 2022 Jul 6;17(7):e0270155. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270155. eCollection 2022.


The global energy system has a relatively small land footprint at present, comprising just 0.4% of ice-free land. This pales in comparison to agricultural land use- 30-38% of ice-free land-yet future low-carbon energy systems that shift to more extensive technologies could dramatically alter landscapes around the globe. The challenge is more acute given the projected doubling of global energy consumption by 2050 and widespread electrification of transportation and industry. Yet unlike greenhouse gas emissions, land use intensity of energy has been rarely studied in a rigorous way. Here we calculate land-use intensity of energy (LUIE) for real-world sites across all major sources of electricity, integrating data from published literature, databases, and original data collection. We find a range of LUIE that span four orders of magnitude, from nuclear with 7.1 ha/TWh/y to dedicated biomass at 58,000 ha/TWh/y. By applying these LUIE results to the future electricity portfolios of ten energy scenarios, we conclude that land use could become a significant constraint on deep decarbonization of the power system, yet low-carbon, land-efficient options are available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Biomass
  • Carbon
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Electricity*


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon

Grant support

R.R.H. received funding for this project from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project 1010512, the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis, and the UC President's Postdoctoral Fellowship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.