Published on June 30th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


4 New Energy Maps Show A Lot About Renewables

June 30th, 2014 by  

Climate Central 

By Bobby Magill

When the U.S. Energy Information Administration launched its new U.S. Energy Mapping System last fall and upgraded it for use on mobile devices in early June, it powered a system allowing anyone to visualize some of the reams of data the EIA compiles on all things energy-related in the country.

That mapping system has a lot to show about renewables — critical to reducing climate change-driving greenhouse gas emissions —  and the spread of renewables development across the continent. Here are four cool things the new Energy Mapping System can show you about where renewable energy is being produced and where it has the potential to be generated in the future:

1. Wind Turbines Are Being Built In Places You May Not Expect

The wind farms in the U.S. and the wind power production potential of each state. The darker the shade of brown, the lower the wind potential. The light blue signifies higher wind potential and the dark blue signifies the highest wind potential. Credit: EIA

Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma have huge wind power potential, and giant wind farms, too. Large swathes of the East have very low wind power potential. But because Appalachian ridge tops see high sustained winds, the EIA’s maps show the pattern of wind farms that have been built throughout the Northeast in regions that otherwise have little wind power potential.

This is especially true in Pennsylvania, where wind farms sprawl along ridge tops in regions that, at first blush, look like there is little wind potential at all. But Pennsylvania generated 2.1 million megawatt hours of wind power in 2012, about as much as windy New Mexico, EIA data show.

New York, another Northeast state shown on the EIA map as having little wind potential, generated even more wind power than Pennsylvania in 2012. New York produced nearly 3 million megawatt hours of wind power in 2012, about half that of Colorado.

The maps also show large areas of the U.S. with high wind power potential going untapped, especially in South Dakota and along the Colorado Front Range near Denver. These areas are highlighted in bright blue on the map.

2. The Cloudier Northeast Has Its Share Of Solar Power

The solar power potential of the contiguous U.S. and the sites of most of the nation’s solar power generating facilities. The darker the shade of brown, the greater the solar power production potential of an area. Credit: EIA

The EIA’s map shows that many solar power plants are where you’d expect them to be — in Arizona, Nevada and California where sunny skies are the defining feature of the climate there. But solar power plants are also spread throughout New Jersey, New York and New England, where the solar power potential is fairly low.

Sure, some of the nation’s largest solar power plants are in Arizona and California, but the map shows that, though the solar power plants in the Northeast are generally small, solar can be done there, too.

3. Biomass Power Production Is All Over, But Mainly In The East And Midwest New Jersey, for example, produced about twice as much solar power in 2012 as sunny Colorado did and nearly a third more solar power in 2012 as Florida, where the solar power potential is significantly greater than anywhere in the Northeast.EIA data show that New Jersey produced 304,000 megawatt hours of solar power that year, while Florida produced 194,000 megawatt hours and Colorado produced 165,000.

The biomass power production potential and biomass power plants scattered across the Lower 48 states. The darker the shade of green, the greater the biomass power production potential. Biomass power plants can be anything from solid waste incinerators to landfills generating power from burning methane emissions. Credit: EIA

Biomass energy comes from many different sources, primarily the burning of wood and wood products and capturing and burning landfill gas and other waste gases. Nationally, more than 57 million megawatt hours of electricity were produced from biomass sources in 2012, with Florida and California producing the most biomass energy.

But the EIA maps show that most facilities producing biomass electricity are concentrated in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and South, especially around Miami, Chicago, Detroit and New York City.

The power plants shown on the EIA map use a wide range of sources of fuel to produce electricity. For example, The Covanta Essex Company’s 60 megawatt Covanta Essex resource recovery plant in Essex County, N.J., produces electricity by burning more than 2,800 tons of municipal solid waste each day. An irrigation district in Turlock, Calif., burns methane produced from the treatment of wastewater to generate 1.2 megawatts of electricity.

4. The U.S. Has Great Geothermal Potential; Most Of It Is Untapped

The geothermal power production potential across the country and the sites of current geothermal power plants in the U.S. The darker the shade of brown, the higher the geothermal power production potential of the area. Credit: EIA

Nevada, California, Utah, New Mexico, western Colorado are all places with large geothermal resources (heat from places where molten rock comes relatively close to the earth’s surface). But nationwide, there are only a handful of geothermal power plants, which in 2012 produced about 15.5 million megawatt hours of electricity, mostly in California, where geothermal accounts for roughly 5 percent of the state’s power generation, according to EIA data.

Geothermal power generation has been slow, according to EIA data, mainly because of the cost and risk involved in building new geothermal power plants, which can take up to eight years longer to complete than wind and solar power generating facilities.

Source: Climate Central. Reproduced with permission. 

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  • Bob_Wallace

    Show us a good one.

  • A lot more should be done about insulating houses (incl. government programs): building newer houses that are better insulated (R40+) and/or renovating older houses to add solid foam insulation to the outside walls,…

  • JamesWimberley

    The EIA seems to be in competition with the NREL, For my money, the NREL wind potential map (link) is much clearer.

    I may have a suspicious mind, but the EIA’s map (with blue = good, brown = no good) subconsciously suggests that the usable area for wind turbines is much smaller than it really is, as the turbine location map confirms. They are also using a 50 metre hub height, far below current practice. The mean hub height of new turbines was 83.8 metres in 2012 (link), and we can be sure it has gone up since
    I understand why marine offshore wind has lagged, but why is the same true for the Great Lakes, which offer a very friendly North Sea – type environment?

    • Bob_Wallace

      A 50 meter hub height map should be thrown out. The wind industry has moved up into the region of much stronger winds.

    • Calamity_Jean

      “I understand why marine offshore wind has lagged, but why is the same true for the Great Lakes, which offer a very friendly North Sea – type environment?”

      Politics, mainly. There was a proposed wind farm offshore at Pentwater, MI, that was vigorously opposed by the De Vos (Amway) family and a proposed wind farm in Lake Erie near the Ohio shore that the governor killed.

  • Hans

    “But solar power plants are also spread throughout New Jersey, New York
    and New England, where the solar power potential is fairly low.”

    Still much better than in Germany. So if Germans can make it work……

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