Transforming Landfills into Solar Power Stations

Transforming Landfills into Solar Power Stations


Several U.S. cities, counties and states have begun converting enclosed landfills into solar power plants to generate clean energy and transform their communities. According to a new report by the independent nonprofit RMI, such an approach will help promote the nation's energy transition. There are more than 10,000 closed landfills in the United States. The future of converting landfills into photovoltaic solar power plants is bright. According to data from Aodok.com, it is estimated that by 2021, 4,312 of these landfill sites alone (the ones with sufficient data to be suitable for photovoltaic power plants) could have at least 63 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity, equivalent to 70% of the total installed solar capacity in the United States. If this potential is fully realized, a landfill-turned-photovoltaic solar plant could generate 83 terawatt-hours (TWh) of clean electricity annually, enough to power 7.8 million homes.
 
Matthew Popkin, a manager of RMI's urban transformation team, said: "When I look at these closed landfills, I don't see an old one that should be completely abandoned; I see an opportunity to use the land creatively, using enclosed landfills passively generate clean electricity and are probably the best use of landfills. Communities can retrofit these landfills with limited reuse potential to advance photovoltaic solar clean energy, and there are more benefits."
 
In addition to generating electricity, RMI also studies the other benefits of converting landfills into photovoltaic solar power plants that could provide to the community. By repurposing enclosed landfills to photovoltaic power plants for sustainable, non-hazardous uses, state and local governments can help revitalize many low-income communities with enclosed landfills by creating jobs.
 
Currently, landfill solar plant projects are geographically concentrated in the northeastern United States, with nearly 75% of operating projects located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. However, landfills are ubiquitous, and cities, counties and states across the country have the opportunity to expand the practice and bring multiple benefits to their communities by converting landfills into photovoltaic solar power plants. For example, the historically neglected Sunnyside community predominantly with mostly black people will soon become the largest landfill photovoltaic solar station in the United States.
 
The Sunnyside community is converting a 240-acre landfill into a 52-megawatt solar power plant, which has negatively impacted the community for more than 80 years. When the Sunnyside Landfill PV Project becomes operational, the PV solar station will generate enough clean electricity to power 5,000 homes and offset 120 million pounds of CO2 annually. The Sunnyside project is also expected to create 600 jobs.
 
As with the Sunnyside project, installing solar energy at the landfill can promote local renewable energy generation, job growth and community revitalization without sacrificing existing green spaces or parks. Expanding it to more than 10,000 closed and inactive landfills across the U.S. is a win-win for both the community and the climate.
 
Policymakers, planners, developers and communities in the PV industry should be aware that the potential of the concept to make landfill solar part of a broader clean energy and strategy of land use is enormous.