Chart of the Day – Energy Density v. Area Required

This rather obscure chart illustrates how space intensive different power sources are in relation to each other. The grey energy sources are renewable, while the white boxes are fossil fuels.

Basically, it illustrates how much less dense many of the renewable energy options are compared to coal and oil. Not that they don’t also take up a great deal of space, but that there’s more energy returned afterward because of the high amount of energy stored in these fossil fuels.
smil energy density graph

The graph is from Vaclav Smil, Energy in World History. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.


5 Responses to Chart of the Day – Energy Density v. Area Required

  1. brian May 16, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    I’m not necessarily and advocate of nuclear energy, but just for comparisson. Uranium was probably left off this chart because it would be way, way up and to the right.

    • Mike Hicks May 16, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      I think the optimal area of the chart is the top left, rather than top right — uranium and other nuclear options probably go up there (and likely off the chart as you said).

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke May 16, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    yeah. this chart doesn’t address cost or temporality (e.g. the thousands of years of containment).

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang May 16, 2014 at 10:24 am #

      Not to mention the space required to contain spent fuel and decommissioned radioactive power plants or the space to contain CO2 from coal and oil if that were even feasible.

  3. Alex Cecchini
    Alex Cecchini May 16, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    This also doesn’t address the space required to extract and transport the energy source itself, right? Natural gas requires many well-heads, pipelines, refineries, and shipping containers to get the NG to plants that can produce it.

    Does it also include the area required to distribute the energy? Centralized facilities vs distributed ones (mostly solar, some smaller wind turbines) mean power lines (and poles), substations, etc.

    Either way, cool chart.

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