U.S. Renewable Energy Potential

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 3, 2012

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published a report exploring domestic potential for renewable energy production and capacity.

The report explored solar, wind, bio, thermal, and hydro power solutions. It concluded that overall, the total technical annual generation potential is roughly 481,800 terawatt-hours, while total technical cumulative capacity potential is around 212,224 gigawatts, Greentech Media reports.

To put this in perspective, aggregate generation across the nation was 3,754 terawatt-hours in 2010.

For solar power, Texas and California are the obvious favorites to lead the market and industry due to their natural positioning. Texas bears around 14 percent of the annual domestic generation potential for rural utility-scale photovoltaic solar power, and California leads for rooftop PV prospects.

The West and the central Great Plains are the best locations for onshore wind, although it is technically present in every state, with Texas at the head of national annual generation potential with 17 percent, says Greentech Media.

Offshore wind is a good prospect for any coast, with Hawaii leading at 17 percent of annual generation potential.

The report states that crop residues and landfills present the best opportunity for harvesting solid and gaseous biomass for biofuels.

And geothermal sites have been identified in 13 states, with the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin region emerging clear leaders.

Interestingly, some Western undeveloped enhanced geothermal system sites may harbor more than 120 times the current annual geothermal generation potential.

Finally, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska present the best resources for hydropower generation potential.

In the NREL’s study, “technical potential” refers simply to a given technology’s limit of achievable energy, when system performance, environmental limitations, topographic restrictions, and land-use parameters are all accounted for.

The full report is available here.

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