Solar power may be one of the most promising forms of renewable energy but the fact remains that the solar farms that generate all of this electricity are sprawling masses of solar arrays that take up tons of open space, especially when compared to far more compact coal and gas power plants. The most obvious solution would be to start building solar power plants vertically rather than horizontally and the best way to do that may be to turn our cities into self-powered solar hubs.
Solar energy has a dark side. Those gargantuan plants that sprawl out like deconstructed disco balls sacrifice valuable open space and put wildlife, and possibly human lives, at risk. A new study by Stanford researchers says that focusing our solar energy efforts in already-developed urban areas could yield more power—by collecting energy where we actually use it. The idea of turning our cities into large-scale energy production centers doesn’t sound that radical, but it’s drastically different from the way power is delivered to our homes. For the most part, utility companies treat solar energy the same as other location-specific energy sources like hydroelectric plants or wind farms, so the majority of solar collection happens on dedicated land far, far away from cities. Building the infrastructure systems to transport the energy from these rural areas into the city can end up costing almost as much as the plants themselves and cause the same level of environmental disturbance all the way back to town. And then you have to use energy to get it there. It doesn’t make much sense.