That is, a California solar farm won’t replace a Pennsylvania coal plant.
These renewable energies emit less carbon dioxide and air pollution than burning fossil fuels for electricity. But the windiest and sunniest places in the United States — such as the southwestern plains and deserts — are not always the most socially and environmentally beneficial sites for wind turbines and solar panels. The benefits, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, vary depending on what energy sources are being replaced.
New wind and solar installations displace the most carbon dioxide and air pollutants where they replace the coal-fired plants found predominantly in eastern and Midwestern states such as Indiana and Pennsylvania. The benefits are much smaller in California and the US southwest, where cleaner gas-fired plants are more common.