Zoomable and draggable like a Google map, with potentially prime locations for various clean energy technologies delineated in gradations of color, the newest offering from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) allows everyone from renewable resource enthusiasts to project developers to quickly, accurately and effectively locate the best places for particular types of clean energy development.
Not only does the map identify prime locations for every clean energy technology from hydro through wave power – including ground-source and enhanced geothermal, biomass residue (such as corn husks, prairie grasses), solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar (CSP), and onshore and offshore wind – but it does so by address, city, state, zip code, or latitude and longitude, or within states, counties, congressional districts, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency- (EPA-) designated brownfields, or federal lands.
The quality of this geospatial renewable locator, from NREL (one of 12 DOE labs engaged in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC), is not surprising. NREL is one of the most active of the labs, performing the lion’s share of the work and garnering much of the press.
Nor is the extensibility of the information provided – by type, by location, and with a sourcing legend readily available in its own tab – unexpected. By panning, zooming, or querying, one can identify a prime wind power location, for example, and then measure its distance from the nearest known geographical location supporting a transmission line or a substation.
A clever amalgamation of basic Google maps, combined with satellite and hybrid views, and zoomable down to the level of Google’s open street map, the geospatial renewable terrain locator is also supremely user-friendly, according to Dan Getman of NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center, whose team created it.
Now, having sung the praises of the map, it seems equally as important to point out the fact that – while much of the nation’s energy is used in the East, where population is most dense and business most active – most of renewable energy development appears to be going on in the West, at least if the news is an accurate indicator.
And while it may be true that the map’s potential is slightly weighted in favor of the West, the most fertile terrain for renewable energy technologies as a whole actually spans the continent, with onshore wind and biomass filling the Central Plains, while offshore wind and hydropower line both coasts. In fact, if any area is technology-specific,
it would be the East Coast for wave power [Editor's update: the West Coast holds more natural potential for wave power], and the states west of the Continental Divide for potential geothermal energy.
Dissecting the map further, it appears that the West Coast holds title to both solar technologies (PV and CSP), but enhanced geothermal system possibilities seem to offer opportunities nationwide. Finally, a slight preponderance of resources in the West only alters the balance of energy delivery because most of the people and heavy industry is in the East.
This problem can be easily overcome, and is currently being addressed by the Tres Amigas, a nationwide interconnect that will bring together the nation’s three primary Independent System Operators (WECC, ERCOT and SPP) which regulate the delivery of power to the West, the Southwest (Texas region), and the East.
Not only will Tres Amigas streamline the delivery of Western-generated electricity to crowded Eastern cities (and potentially vice versa), relieving grid congestion, brownouts and mandatory DSM (Demand Side Management) programs, but it will facilitate the integration of renewable energy into the grid at no risk to power plant operators or the infrastructure that keeps the nation running during the day and lit up at night.
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