NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

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

August 21, 2015

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a study to estimate the potential of different renewable energy generation technologies. The study focused on technology-specific aspects but did not consider economic or market constraints.

This study presents the results for six different renewable electricity generation technologies: utility-scale photovoltaics (both urban and rural), concentrating solar power, onshore wind power, offshore wind power, biopower and enhanced geothermal systems.

The study produced some very interesting findings:

  • Rural utility-scale photovoltaic leads all other technologies in technical potential (280,600 TWh) with Texas being the best suited state for this kind of development.
  • By contrast, urban utility-scale photovoltaic has a much lower technical potential (2,200 TWh.) The large population centers of California and Texas are the best candidates for this technology.
  • Concentrating solar power presents the second highest technical potential (116,100 TWh). Its implementation is most viable in the Southwest.
  • Onshore wind power's technical potential is higher than its offshore counterpart (32,700 vs. 17,000 TWh) and its adoption is ideal in the western and central Great Plains.
  • The majority of Enhanced Geothermal Systems' potential (31,300 TWh) is located in the Rocky Mountain states and the Great Basin but it could be developed in the central and eastern portions of the country.

To reach these conclusions the study assumed that land, transmission infrastructure and other resources were readily available. It also assumed that national, state and local policies would foster the development of these projects. Thus, the estimates do not necessarily represent the level of renewable energy that might actually be generated.

Source: Anthony Lopez et al., "U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS-Based Analysis," National Renewable Energy Laboratory, July 2012.

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