There isn’t a state in the nation that doesn’t have the space and resources to generate clean energy. That is the principal finding of a recent study called the  U.S. RE Technical Potential from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The report establishes the “upper boundary limit” of  clean energy development potential for each state, including PV solar, concentrating solar thermal, wind, hydro, geothermal, and bio energy.

In its study, NREL defines what is technically achievable considering topographic limitations, land-use and environmental constraints for each state. Using state-level maps and tables incorporating available land area, installed capacity in gigawatts, and electric generation in gigawatt-hours for each technology, the study lays out in detail the broad “sense of the scale regarding the potential for renewables and which technologies are worth examining,” says report co-author Anthony Lopez.

“Decision-makers using the study will get a sense of scale regarding the potential for renewables, and which technologies are worth examining,” said Lopez. “Energy modelers also will find the study valuable.”

The report “normalizes” its assessment of the six clean energy technologies, unifying methods and assumptions in the comparison to give a clear picture of the technical potential for renewable energy across the country.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory releases study mapping renewable energy potential for each state


Some states and regions stand out for particular technologies. For instance, Hawaii has the most potential for offshore wind; the Lone Star State is prime for Texas-sized utility-scale PV solar (with California on its boot heels); the Rocky Mountain states roil with geothermal energy; the Great North of Alaska and the northwest offer the most potential for hydropower. In all, “it looks like every state has something to work with,” says Lopez.

According to the study the U.S. has 481,800 terawatt-hours of potential generating capacity from all renewable energy sources combine – 212,224 gigawatts. Those are big numbers, and more than enough to meet our current needs.

Of course, it isn’t as easy as simply mapping potential. The report  does not take into account economics and market forces, and the question of energy transmission remains- getting the power where it is needed. But the NREL study makes clear the potential of clean energy to transform the nation into a leader of the new energy economy – if we are up to the challenge.

Main image credit:
Map credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory