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Updated Interactive Maps for Renewable Energy Sites in the U.S.

The United State Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has developed an online map to help identify areas for clean energy infrastructure projects across the country. The Geospatial Energy Mapper (GEM) is a comprehensive, interactive online mapping tool that can assist in identifying areas across the country that are suitable for wind, solar and more.

The online map was first publicly launched in 2013 as the Energy Zones Mapping Tool (EZMT). Over the last ten years, GEM has been redesigned, rebranded, and re-engineered over time. GEM is hosted by the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory with funding from the DOE’s Office of Electricity.

“We implemented lessons acquired from hosting the EZMT for nearly 10 years in GEM, such as making it easier to learn and use, updating the software architecture, and selecting a name that reflects its current spectrum of usage,” said Jim Kuiper, principal geospatial engineer, and GEM technical coordinator.

GEM offers an extensive catalogue of mapping data, such as energy resources, infrastructure, and other information that might influence energy infrastructure siting decisions. With over 190 mapping layers — including demographics, boundaries, and utilities — users can locate areas for clean power generation, electric vehicle charging stations and more.

Choosing which renewable energy to build, whether solar, wind or thermal energy, is a huge decision with consequences that extend far beyond electricity generation. This new feature helps users quickly load multiple layers related to a specific technology or resource without manually browsing the mapping catalogue and adding individual layers to the map.

With GEMs modelling capabilities, users can generate a customised suitability map or ​”heat map.” This map shows which geographical areas in the United States are favourable for developing specific energy resources and infrastructures. GEM also provides preloaded models for over 40 different types of energy infrastructure. Land-based wind turbines or utility-scale photovoltaic solar are two examples, which provide a convenient starting point that users can easily customise.

“Choosing where to establish utility-scale renewable energy projects is a huge decision with consequences that extend far beyond the generation of electricity,” told Michael Levin, a GEM user and PhD student studying renewable energy landscapes at Columbia University. ​”GEM publishes energy suitability maps and allows users to customise the model used to create them.”

GEM has nearly 100 modelling criteria to choose from: population density, proximity to the nearest substation, slope, wildfire risk, and low-income household percentage are just a few examples. Nine types of energy resources can be analysed for clean energy resource development. Biomass, coal (with carbon capture and sequestration), geothermal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, storage, water, and wind are among them.

Australian National University (ANU) has made a similar endeavour. The university researchers created a new tool showing Australia’s most significant areas for fresh wind or solar farms. The ANU’s ‘heat maps’ study is aimed at farmers and landholders, who the researchers believe are vital in accelerating Australia’s solar and wind uptake and helping the country fulfil its renewable energy ambitions. The project’s goal is to give landowners the ability to approach developers directly and negotiate the construction of solar or wind farms on their property.

According to the researchers, the area in New South Wales between Goulburn and Lithgow is especially appropriate for new clean energy projects since it is well-served by transmission lines and has good wind and solar resources. New wind farms have a lot of promise in Tasmania, especially along the north coast and on the King and Flinders islands.

While in Victoria, the Yallourn district is appealing due to its high wind potential, robust existing transmission into Melbourne, and the need to replace local coal sector employment. West of Melbourne, there is also a lot of wind potential. South Australia offers good wind and solar potential east of St Vincent and Spencer gulfs. On the other hand, the best wind and solar locations in Queensland follow the coastal transmission lines north of Brisbane in areas such as Rockhampton and Mackay. Perth, too, has many excellent solar and wind sites near transmission lines that run north and south of the city.

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