Land required for hydropower plants to generate a megawatt hour of electricity

Hydropower is one of the oldest ways of generating electricity, and it is also the original renewable energy source. But hydropower is not without its challenges. Its primary challenge is the vast amount of land required to form lakes and reservoirs behind the dam to control the flow of water over the electric turbines.

Using data from all the hydropower plants across the US, we calculate that it takes 0.265 acres land to generate a megawatt hour of electricity.

Of course, the geography of every dam varies widely so this number is just an average across the US.


Download the full spreadsheet here: (coming later – for now download from embedded spreadsheet)

Additional reading

If you’d like to dive more deeply into this topic, we came up with the list of articles below as we researched this question.

  • The research article that provided the analysis included in our spreadsheet:
  • The US Army Corp of Engineers National Inventory of Dams
    • https://nid.sec.usace.army.mil/ords/f?p=105:1::::::
    • Click on the “downloads” menu item to get the entire list of dams
  • Great research on the land use of hydropower outside the US
    • Land under water: Estimating hydropower’s land use impacts
    • https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-03/nuos-luw031318.php
  • Another great article looking at the land impact of all forms of energy
    • Renewable Energy: Current and Potential Issues: Renewable energy technologies could, if developed and implemented, provide nearly 50% of US energy needs; this would require about 17% of US land resources
    • https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/52/12/1111/223002
    • Citation: David Pimentel, Megan Herz, Michele Glickstein, Mathew Zimmerman, Richard Allen, Katrina Becker, Jeff Evans, Benita Hussain, Ryan Sarsfeld, Anat Grosfeld, Thomas Seidel, Renewable Energy: Current and Potential Issues: Renewable energy technologies could, if developed and implemented, provide nearly 50% of US energy needs; this would require about 17% of US land resources, BioScience, Volume 52, Issue 12, December 2002, Pages 1111–1120, https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2002)052[1111:RECAPI]2.0.CO;2

Code: m124 GWhLandHydro math