Europe set for green transition land squeeze – report

A new report from McKinsey claims that Europe will require a land area equivalent to the size of Belgium dedicated to renewable energy in order to meet its climate goals.

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Land: A crucial resource for the energy transition, outlines how the competing interests of agriculture, biodiversity and renewable energy sources (RES) will need to be accommodated, in some cases through hybrid land use. Under the EU’s REPowerEU plan, Europe needs to add 700GW of RES capacity between 2023 and 2030, a threefold increase compared with the RES capacity added from 2014 to 2022.

It's estimated that over 90 per cent of additional capacity will have to come from wind and solar, both of which require large amounts of land. In France, Germany, and Italy, where roughly 50 per cent of EU RES installations are expected, meeting 2040 targets will require an additional 23,000 to 35,000 square kilometres of land—an area roughly the size of Belgium. What’s more, many of the best locations to site RES have already been utilised, with suitable land becoming scarcer across the continent, and increasing pressure also coming from biodiversity and agricultural requirements.   

“The role that land availability plays in the energy transition cannot be underestimated but we must also consider that land availability is crucial to other societal and environmental objectives, such as agriculture and biodiversity conservation,” said Raffael Winter, partner at McKinsey.

“This creates increased competition for what are all extremely important issues. It’s vital for businesses and regulators across Europe to act hand in hand to ensure that RES development is land-efficient and biodiversity-enhancing by harnessing deployment strategies that can ensure sustainability and promote a comprehensive approach.”

According to McKinsey, a significant proportion of land in Europe is also precluded from development because of strict regulations and environmental limitations. Adapting regulatory systems to free up land and maximise its utility are just some of the report’s recommendations.

Other actions suggested by McKinsey include using spatial planning to assess the best sites at a country level for RES, providing financial incentives at local level for RES deployment, and promoting solar PV on buildings, roads, carparks, and other ‘sealed’ infrastructure where concrete or stone is already in situ.  Mechanisms and business models for hybrid land use - bringing together landowners, RES developers, utilities, and regulators – will also be crucial if Europe is to meet its food security and biodiversity requirements, as well as its energy transition goals.