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“U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS- Based Analysis”

Authors: Anthony Lopez, Billy Roberts, Donna Heimiller, Nate Blair, and Gian Porro, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The July 2012 NREL technical report, “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS- Based Analysis,” presents achievable renewable energy (RE) potential on a state-by-state basis for specific renewable electricity-generating technologies based on spatial analysis of the US.

Results establish an upper-boundary estimate for development potential of renewable energy using available land and resources that greatly exceeds recent US electric usage. Findings for six RE technologies are presented through tables, US maps, and narrative summaries, making it easy for readers to find out about their own states’ potential RE options.

Specific renewable electricity generation technologies analyzed included urban utility-scale photovoltaics (PV), rural utility-scale PV, rooftop PV, concentrating solar power (utility scale), onshore and offshore wind power, biopower (biomass resources), hydrothermal and geothermal systems, and hydropower.

To help readers gain perspective on the estimated technical potential of specific technologies in relation to current electricity usage, the report provided the 2010 data point that U.S. annual aggregate electricity retail sales were roughly 3,754 TWh (terawatt hours). In contrast, the study estimated that potential one year rural utility-scale PV generated electricity alone could be 280,600 TWh. Readers also can compare the other RE technology potentials in national aggregate and in individual states.

While overall technical generation potential was shown to be over 100 times the 2010 use, the report clarified that the study did not consider economic and market constraints. Examples of constraints that were not incorporated were multiple technology uses of available land, availability of transmission infrastructure, time-of-production of power, costs of developing power, the presence of policies that could encourage RE development, or potential electricity loads.

Readers might be interested in a subsequent NREL report that puts together the complex multi-technology puzzle of providing hour-by-hour electricity to all parts of the US with 80% RE on the grid by 2050. “Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures)”

CEA reviewers would be interested in comparable analysis of the nationwide potential of smaller-scale distributed generation.

US Renewable Energy resource map used with permission from Renewbl.com, with acknowledgement to NRDC, the original map source.

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