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The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released two new data sets containing 2,000 U.S. wind energy zoning ordinances and 1,000 solar energy ordinances at the state, county, township, and city levels with corresponding spreadsheets and maps.
NREL develops and disseminates the foundational, high-resolution, machine-readable data to the research community to assist in the analysis, modeling applications, and land availability for renewable energy projects in the U.S. The data helps to understand the complex interactions between siting considerations and large-scale clean energy development.
The wind energy database includes setbacks—or the required boundaries where wind turbines cannot be installed. Taller the turbine, the larger the setback. It includes height and rotor size restrictions, noise limitations, shadow flicker limits, and utility-scale wind bans or moratoriums.
According to the research, the total U.S. wind energy footprint is equivalent to the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. Only a small fraction of that area (<1%–4%) is estimated to be directly impacted or permanently occupied by physical wind energy infrastructure.
The solar energy database includes setbacks, height restrictions, minimum and maximum lot sizes, and solar power development bans or moratoriums.
Research results show more than enough land is available to support solar development in the future. In 2050, the land area required for ground-based solar technologies, equal to 0.5% of the U.S., could be met with less than 10% of potentially suitable disturbed lands.
Siting regimes of wind and solar projects play a critical role in the country’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.
“The data can inform discussions about balancing local clean energy deployment decisions with mitigating global climate change,” said Anthony Lopez, NREL senior geospatial data scientist and project lead for the new data sets.
“The data can be used in modeling and analysis to assess trade-offs between emissions, costs, plant design, land use, wildlife habitat, and more,” said Trieu Mai, NREL senior energy analyst.
According to Energy Information Administration, electricity generated from renewable sources totaled 795 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in the U.S. in 2021, surpassing the 778 million MWh of electricity generated from nuclear reactors.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) and NREL revealed that solar was likely to account for at least 40% of America’s electricity supply by 2035 and 45% by 2050 with significant cost reductions, supportive policies, and large-scale electrification.