August 2017: Feature Article


Dr Turlough Guerin, Agricultural Institute of Australia

The renewable energy sector in Australia is experiencing unprecedented levels of investment, and this presents a unique opportunity for the national economy and for communities in regional Australia. Environmental impacts are minimal and community benefits can accrue from both large- and utility-scale solar projects, such as jobs and regional investment, but there are questions for the agricultural sector to consider as these opportunities open up: To what extent is the concern of energy generation versus food production warranted? Should large-scale solar power stations even be built on agricultural land? The author uses a case study from the Central West of NSW to explore these issues.


There has been a longstanding debate on whether or not agricultural land should be used for producing energy. This debate emerged in recent decades with the prospect of biologically-derived liquid fuels being produced from agricultural grain crops. However, agriculture has for centuries been a producer of energy, albeit indirectly through feeding of animals used to power land-based transport. In recent times, the question of energy versus food emerges again as large-scale and utility-sized solar photovoltaic (PV) projects secure approvals across Australia.

Figure 1: Cumulative solar PV installed in Australia as a proportion of world total

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