Achieving US decarbonization goals is expected to require the rapid deployment of additional wind power. As the wind unfolds, social and ecological considerations of the surrounding landscape become increasingly important, but research on the land use impacts of wind unfolding has been limited.
Through a comprehensive spatial analysis of wind energy installations deployed in the United States over the past two decades, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has investigated the emerging intersection of wind energy deployment and the environment , giving us a better understanding of how developments in wind technology and plant design are changing the land. usage requirements.
“The impact of wind power on the landscape is distinct and very nuanced,” said Dylan Harrison-Atlas, NREL researcher and lead author of a Environmental Research Letters article. “Our data-driven analysis can inform future turbine and plant design and deployments, helping to further society’s conservation and decarbonization goals.”
A standardized methodology
In recent years, many metrics have been proposed to quantify the land use impacts of wind projects, but none have captured the complexity of real-world deployments.
NREL has developed a standardized approach using geospatial analysis of wind turbine locations to assess interactions with the surrounding landscape. The approach holistically considers geographic footprint characteristics to characterize the nature of the impact, the proximity of built structures and nearby wind power plants, and considers turbine design and lifecycle characteristics. to determine area requirements and land use intensity.
“It’s a flexible approach that we can continue to use to track the dynamic interactions between wind energy and the environment,” Harrison-Atlas said.
NREL used this approach to study wind deployments in the United States from 2000 to 2020, highlighting land use trends that can help researchers, technology designers, land use managers and policy makers to consider future wind energy systems that meet clean energy, social and environmental goals. .
Historical trends in wind deployment
NREL finds that the total wind footprint of the United States—or the cumulative land contained within the outermost boundaries of contemporary U.S. wind power plants—equals the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. However, only a small fraction of this area (
Most deployments are in the South Central and Great Plains regions, followed by the Great Lakes, Pacific, Mountains, and Northeast regions. The Southwest and Southeast have fewer deployments. Most wind power plants are on private land, with less than 2% of national installed wind capacity located on public land. This may change as federal priorities and policies evolve.
Nationally, the median size of wind power plants has increased from 12 to 180 megawatts since 2000, and the average wind project has 51 wind turbines. Most of these projects tend to be deployed in clusters, both locally and regionally.
Importantly, NREL finds that although wind projects require more land per megawatt of capacity due to the deployment of larger rotors, performance improvements have not resulted in any change in the amount of power they can produce per unit. of surface.
NREL finds that wind energy generally has a low impact on the surrounding landscape, with most U.S. wind deployments occurring in cropland and the temperate grassland biome. In addition, wind power plants are increasingly being developed on land that is already used for other forms of human activity. Surprisingly, most wind turbines tend to be near buildings – 65% of all US wind turbines are located within one mile of a structure. The average distance between wind turbines and built structures serves as a proxy for understanding local exposure to wind projects. Using this proxy, NREL finds that local exposure to wind projects varies across the country, but is generally highest in the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Northeast regions.
Prospects for the future
Continuing to deploy wind across croplands and areas with existing infrastructure could minimize additional landscape impacts, but ambitious US decarbonization goals will likely expand wind into different ecological settings.
“We have a responsibility to consider conservation goals in regions where these technologies are deployed,” said Anthony Lopez, geospatial data scientist at NREL and co-author of the study. “It will become even more important to track land use and design wind power plants that minimize impact to ensure sustainable deployment.”
NREL suggests that strategic innovation in turbine technology and plant design will be important for the sustainable management of wind energy. For example, innovations such as turbine scaling could help maximize energy density with fewer turbines and less capacity required, even in places where the quality of wind resources is relatively lower. NREL will continue to track the dynamics of wind deployment to monitor ongoing changes in its land use.
Wake direction potentially boosts energy production at U.S. wind power plants
Dylan Harrison-Atlas et al, Dynamic Land Use Implications of the Rapid Deployment and Evolution of Wind Energy, Environmental Research Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac5f2c
Quote: Trends in US wind projects, technology development and land use (2022, April 25) retrieved April 30, 2022 from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-04-trends-technology.html
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