2012-08-08

Maps Show The Incredible Potential Of Renewable Energy

The U.S. has a lot of untapped renewable energy, from wind in the Midwest to solar in the Southwest. These maps show where we could maximize our clean power resources.

Take a look at these maps: They show the renewable energy potential of every state in the country. The good news is that everywhere has resources to exploit, whether it’s solar in the Southwest, onshore wind in the Midwest, or offshore wind on the East coast.

The data was compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy. In total, the U.S. has 481,800 terawatt-hours of annual generating potential, or 212,224 gigawatts of capacity across wind, solar, biopower, geothermal, and hydropower. If you don’t know your gigawatts, that’s more than enough to go around, in other words, though questions about transmission mean that solar power in the Southwest may not help people who need more power in the Midwest.

A few states stand out. Hawaii has the highest offshore wind potential (17% of the national total). Alaska and the Northwest enjoy 27% of the realizable hydropower. Texas has the greatest opportunities in plant-scale photovoltaics, with California not far behind. The Rocky Mountain states have the best geothermal potential.

It’s important to note that the NREL uses a broad definition of "potential," though. The maps are based on what is technically available, given assumptions about technology, land use, and environmental constraints. They don’t consider future economics and market conditions, which are obvious big caveats. We may not be able to afford a wind turbine in a few years.

NREL also had to normalize a lot of data from different sources, inevitably drawing arbitrary lines here and there. Still, as co-author Anthony Lopez says, the maps give "a sense of scale regarding the potential for renewables, and which technologies are worth examining." Seems like every state has something to work with.

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4 Comments

  • turtlewoman1039

    What we've always needed is the equivalent of a Manhattan Project for clean, green, renewable energy.  Instead the republicans and their corporate handlers whine about alternative energy's inability to 'compete', while the extraction industries have had literally generations of tax breaks.

  • Ronkiser

    Why do you have to make it political? I am not Republican; however, I can tell you Republicans and Conservatives alike understand the need for alternative, green energy. They just don't want to have it mandated. These technologies must grow organically.

  • Arman Nobari

    Now all we need is massive, massive investment to build location-specific energy infrastructure that cooperates between (and does not alienate) nearby states.

  • Chris Cole

    Totally agree. I think that the main obstacle to this potential is the lack of infrastructure, mainly in the form of high-capacity energy lines that allow renewable energy entrepreneurs in these states to sell power to the larger grid. If there is no market, then land owners in these areas won't want to front the investment to just power their own properties.

    It's up to the states to build these lines, and then the financial potential of selling sustainable energy to the grid can spur development, and more than that, community buy-in in a lot of these areas. Wind in particular is tricky - people say it's an eyesore, and the noise of the turbines turns people off from wanting windmills near them. But if there's financial opportunity for landowners, it greases the wheels.