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08/21/2012 12:01 PM     print story email story  

Mapping US Renewable Energy Potential, State by State

SustainableBusiness.com News

Dovetailing their June report showing the promise of renewable energy technology to serve US electricity needs, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are providing detailed guidance about the state-by-state potential.

And contrary to the common myth that only certain states will have a stake in the clean energy movement, the NREL analysis finds that every state has the space and resources to generate clean energy.

"Decision-makers using the study will get a sense of scale regarding the potential for renewables, and which technologies are worth examining," says NREL’s Anthony Lopez, a co-author of the study. "Energy modelers also will find the study valuable."

In June, the NREL predicted that 80% of the nation's power could be generated by clean energy sources by 2050. About 5% of US power today comes from renewable energies such as solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal or biomass.

The new NREL report, US RE Technical Potential, maps the "could be" scenarios for key renewable technologies in each state. The forecasts strictly consider technical system performance, topographical limitations, environmental and land-use constraints but they don't account for economic conditions.

The total technical capacity potential for renewable energy technologies identified by NREL is 212,224 gigawatts (GW), says NREL.

NREL forecast

What's the high-level view on which states hold the most promise?

When it comes to solar, large populations and abundant sunlight make Texas and California key locations. There is offshore wind potential along all US coasts, while potential for onshore development exists in almost every state. Meanwhile, 13 states show particular promise when it comes to geothermal development, says NREL.

Updates to the report are planned over time. For now, though, here is a snapshot of the annual technical potential for each renewable energy type, according to the NREL analysis:

Solar (155,000 GW for PV, 38,000 GW for CSP)

Rural utility-scale solar projects lead all other clean energy technologies in terms of their overall estimated technical potential, says NREL.

Texas and California have the highest estimated capacity because of their geography and because their large populations make solar projects more attractive than in other places.

Texas accounts for 14% of the utility-scale PV potential and 20% of the CSP potential, while California leads when it comes to rooftop PV. 

Wind (11,000 GW for onshore, 4,200 GW for offshore)

There is potential for wind projects in every state, although the best opportunities are still in Western and Central Great Plains states. The potential is lowest in the Southeast, while certain states in the East and West are constrained by environmental exclusions.

Here again, Texas looks good: it has the highest estimated potential for onshore wind, roughly 17% of capacity.

When it comes to offshore wind power, wind speeds off Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico are lower than they are off the Pacific Coast, but their shallower waters make them more attractive for development. Hawaii has the highest estimated annual potential of all the states, about 17% of the total.

Geothermal (38 GW conventional, 4,000 GW enhanced)

13 states lead the way when it comes to hydrothermal projects including (in alphabetical order) Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

When it comes to enhanced systems, the Rocky Mountain states and those associated with the Great Basin offer the most favorable resources.

Hydropower (68 GW)

Much of the opportunity lies in the Northwest and Alaska, which together account for about 27% of the technical potential.

Biopower (62 GW)

Solid biomass, especially crop residues, are the largest contributor in this area accounting for about 82% of total technical capacity. The rest comes mainly from energy generated by landfill gases. While potential is spread across all of the states, the five with the highest capacity potential are Illinois, Iowa, California, Texas and Minnesota.

For the complete report:

Website: www.nrel.gov/gis/re_potential.html



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