Dynamic Land Use Implications of Rapidly Expanding and Evolving Wind Power Deployment

Dylan Harrison-Atlas, Anthony Lopez, Eric Lantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus Citations


The expansion of wind power poses distinct and varied geographic challenges to a sustainable energy transition. However, current knowledge of its land use impacts and synergies is limited by reliance on static characterizations that overlook the role of turbine technology and plant design in mediating interactions with the environment. Here, we investigate how wind technology development and innovation have shaped landscape interactions with social and ecological systems within the United States and contribute to evolving land area requirements. This work assesses trends in key land use facets of wind power using a holistic set of metrics to establish an evidence base that researchers, technology designers, land use managers, and policymakers can use in envisioning how future wind-intensive energy systems may be jointly optimized for clean energy, social, and environmental objectives. Since 2000, we find dynamic land occupancy patterns and regional trends that are driven by advancing technology and geographic factors. Though most historical U.S. wind deployment has been confined to the temperate grassland biome in the nation's interior, regional expansion has implicated diverse land use and cover types. A large percentage of the typical wind plant footprint ( 1/496% to \,$?> > 99%) is not directly impacted by permanent physical infrastructure, allowing for multiple uses in the spaces between turbines. Surprisingly, turbines are commonly close to built structures. Moreover, rangeland and cropland have supported 93.4% of deployment, highlighting potential synergies with agricultural lands. Despite broadly decreasing capacity densities, offsetting technology improvements have stabilized power densities. Land use intensity, defined as the ratio of direct land usage to lifetime power generation of wind facilities, has also trended downwards. Although continued deployment on disturbed lands, and in close proximity to existing wind facilities and other infrastructure, could minimize the extent of impacts, ambitious decarbonization trajectories may predispose particular biomes to cumulative effects and risks from regional wind power saturation. Increased land-use and sustainability feedback in technology and plant design will be critical to sustainable management of wind power.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 044064
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-75863


  • environmental impacts
  • land use
  • renewable energy
  • spatial analysis
  • sustainability
  • wind power


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