How Renewable Projects Are Threatening a Crucial Carbon Sink

The sprawling Mojave Desert plays a key role in carbon sequestration, storing around 10 percent of California’s carbon. But the fragile ecosystem is threatened by large-scale renewable energy projects.

2 minute read

April 25, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System

The Ivanpah solar facility, covering 3,500 acres of the Mojave Desert, is the world’s largest solar thermal power station. | craig coker / Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System

A StoryMap from the Mojave Desert Land Trust outlines the role of the Southwestern desert in fighting climate change, highlighting the conflict between desert conservation and the rise of large-scale solar power generation projects. According to the MDLT, “Around 10% of the state’s carbon is sequestered underground in the desert’s plants and soil. But that carbon storage capacity is under threat from an unlikely source: large-scale renewable energy projects.”

“Arid soils provide the third largest global pool of carbon storage potential. In California, the desert accounts for nearly 10% of the state’s carbon sequestration.” But large-scale solar projects are often “poorly sited in pristine functioning ecosystems,” which can reduce the desert’s capacity to serve as an effective carbon sink.

According to MDLT, “To protect the desert’s fragile resources, we need to focus on leveraging renewable energy options with the least impact on functioning ecosystems.” To this end, “Several innovative technologies capable of assisting in our transition to clean energy, including rooftop and community solar, should be leveraged.” The article encourages boosting community and rooftop solar installations that utilize already developed land to create more solar energy production. “Recent studies have shown that rooftops across the United States offer enough acreage to generate the entire electrical demand of the country and more. One study found that installing 1 GW of rooftop solar would potentially avoid the disturbance of almost 5,200 acres of land – an area around the size of Monterey.”

See the linked StoryMap for more statistics and a visualization of California’s “development focus areas,” previously disturbed land recommended for renewable projects.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022 in Mojave Desert Land Trust

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