Dan Rushton

Capturing the Sensitivity of National Wind Energy Potential to Local Siting Challenges

Onshore wind energy is among the fastest growing utility-scale renewable energy technologies in the world. With falling costs, usage is on the rise with wind generation capacity increasing by a factor of almost 75 in the past two decades. With global capacity from onshore wind energy projected to reach nearly 750 GW by next year, tens of thousands of turbines will need to be accurately sited by developers looking to achieve their maximum potential and profitability.

Photograph of wind turbines


Wind farms are facilities made up of a group of high-power wind turbines connected to the power grid and are located in places that usually have a sufficient amount of wind, available land, and access to the power grid.

map from Carto

How else can Spatial be used in the Utilities Industry?

Discover Next-Gen Use Cases

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) specializes in the research and development of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy systems integration, and sustainable transportation. As a federally funded research and development center they are transforming energy through research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy within the US. At CARTO Locations, Anthony Lopez a Senior Researcher & Spatial Data Scientist at NREL, talked about how Renewable Energy can be advanced through Spatial Analysis and Visualization.

More recently, Anthony along with colleagues from the NREL (including Trieu Mai, Matthew Mowers, Eric Lantz, Dylan Harrison-Atlas, Travis Williams, & Galen Maclaurin) released two research papers exploring siting challenges for wind technology and the implications for decarbonizing the electric grid.

In this post we take a look at some of the results from the first paper and how NREL are providing supply curve data and interactive maps to the research community.

Renewable Energy Supply Curves

Supply curves characterize the quantity, quality, and cost of renewable resources. Often developed within a scenario framework, they capture a range of drivers that influence renewable energy potential. This foundational information serves as the basis for a variety of analysis and modeling applications including the interactions of wind energy project siting, resource potential, and power system evolution.

Wind Supply Curves

The interactive map below shows wind supply curves, which characterize the quantity, quality, and cost of land-based wind resources. The geospatial data can be downloaded from the NREL’s website.

Solar Supply Curves

The interactive map below shows solar supply curves, which characterize the quantity, quality, and cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) resources. The geospatial data can be downloaded from the NREL’s website.

In their approach to determine plausible locations for future wind farm developments, the team of researchers were able to look at where turbines could be placed in relation to roads, buildings, waterways, and other obstructions. Given the variation in state and local rules on how closely turbines can be placed to existing structures the team also analyzed three scenarios:

  • The “reference case” is similar to current rules, and has room for 7,827 gigawatts of wind energy capacity, which is about 65 times the current level.
  • The “open access” scenario shows minimal local restrictions, and has room for 15,175 gigawatts, which is about 110 times the current level.
  • The “limited access” scenario shows heightened restrictions, and has room for 2,280 gigawatts, or 19 times the current level.

These scenarios were visualized within the report in order to show the extent of the restrictions and the developable onshore wind capacity:

Developable onshore wind capacity per 11.5 km x 11.5 km site for the three siting regimes.


Wind Deployment Scenarios

The interactions of wind energy project siting, resource potential, and power system evolution are critical to understand given interest in high renewable energy systems, particularly as wind costs have fallen and grid operators implement solutions to manage variable generation.

Siting restrictions can also affect regional wind development and the team also used these scenarios to analyze installed wind capacity in a scenario where onshore wind is prescribed to be 40% in 2050 using their flagship capacity expansion model, The Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS). Of the numerous scenarios analyzed and visualized, the limited access scenario revealed a spatially dispersed wind development, requiring more power plants with smaller capacity:

2050 installed wind capacity for each 11.5 km X 11.5 site under the 40% Wind scenarios by Limited Access siting regimes.


Overall the analysis concluded that “despite the vast U.S. onshore wind resource potential, siting restrictions can have a measurable impact on the future development of wind.”

In particular, “different siting regimes lead to variations in future wind capacity, with the greatest impacts observed under scenarios with high demand for clean energy. With the tightest emissions limit modeled, 2050 onshore wind capacity varied by +7% (49 GW) in the least-restrictive siting regime to a decrease of 37% (270 GW) under the most-constrained case.”

map from Carto

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About the author
Dan Rushton

Dan is the Content Marketing Manager at CARTO. Dan holds a Masters in Electronic Engineering with business experience in development, sales, training and marketing. Prior to joining CARTO, Dan was a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Apple.

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