To understand how much land the average solar power plant occupies, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analyzed the land-use requirements in 2012 for 72% of the operating utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in the United States. Utility-scale solar plants are those with capacities greater than 1 megawatt (MW). Comparing the total land area (fenced-in area) of CSP and PV plants and normalizing the values for alternating-current (ac; PV is direct current), the NREL found that 25 CSP plants with a total capacity of 3747 MW used on average 10 acres/MWac, whereas 147 PV plants with a total capacity of 4100 MW used on average 8.9 acres/MWac. See also: Concentrating solar power; Electric power generation; Energy sources; Solar cell; Solar energy
The results were summarized in the June 2013 NREL report, Land-Use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States. The report did not draw any conclusion about what the data represented; however, an NREL news release citing the report said that to power 1000 homes by solar energy would require an area of 32 acres (13 hectares).
As an exercise, how much land would be required to meet all U.S. energy needs with solar power alone, based on the NREL report? According the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 there were 132,312,404 housing units (houses). This number of houses would require 4,233,997 acres for solar plants. Using the NERL 2010 estimate that U.S. residential energy consumption represented 22.6% of the total, all the U.S. energy requirements could be met if 18,734,500 acres were used for solar plants, which is equal to about 0.8% of entire area of the United States.
Earlier in 2013, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, operating in some countries as the World Wildlife Fund) issued a report, Solar PV Atlas: Solar Power in Harmony with Nature, that stated the land-use requirements for PV would be comparably low (less than 1% of the total area) for meeting 100% of the electricity needed in 2050 for Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, Turkey, and the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the regions studied.