A Feasibility Study on Renewable Energy Generation
Zeynep Esin
Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering
Washington University in St. Louis

Abstract:

Renewable energy generation has become a very important topic in the last decade, as fossil fuels are rapidly becoming depleted. Prior research on renewable energy scatters across different methodologies and regions; there is no comprehensive database that spans the entire country and takes into account all factors affecting renewable development. This study aims to fill this gap by aggregating all the data available for wind and solar energy into a main database and analyzing resource availability for sites across the US.

Introduction:

As a step towards promoting sustainable living, most US states have accepted Renewable Portfolio Standards and are trying to implement changes that will make sure 10-30% of their energy consumption comes from renewable energy sources. The map below shows the 25 states that have accepted renewable portfolio standards and the percentages of their electric supply they aim to generate from renewable sources.

Figure 1: States with renewable portfolio standards
Cory, K. S., & Swezey, B. G. (December 2007). Renewable Portfolio Standards in the States: Balancing Goals and Implementation Strategies. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The studies that have been conducted so far to encourage the use of renewable energy sources are scattered across different methodologies and regions. Most of these studies are state-based and specifically related to the policies of the state. It is very difficult to derive meaningful information from these studies that would be applicable to the US globally.

The research on renewable energy can be collected under three main headings according to outcomes: resource availability and efficiency, storage capacity, and electrical transmission and infrastructure. This research project focuses on the first of these outcomes and aims to provide comprehensive information on the feasibility of renewable energy sources across the United States and analyze factors affecting renewable energy sources.  It aggregates all the data available into a main database and investigates the potential for renewable energy generation at various sites, taking into consideration factors such as current land use, legislation, load demand, environmental concerns, cost, transmission lines and storage of the generated energy. The study focuses mainly on wind and solar energy, although we hope to expand our research to other types of renewable energy in the future.  

This project was initiated under the supervision and advising of Dr. Nehorai and Joshua York, a recent alumnus of Washington University’s Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering. It was carried forward by two undergraduate Engineering students, Jessica Stigile and Naitik Bhatt last semester.

The progress made last semester on the wind energy development was taking data provided by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) through the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) and using it to calculate capacity factors for power potential at 6,461 sites across the Eastern United States. A Microsoft Access Database was created that contained all the information and helped categorize it in various ways. This led to the development of a mathematical procedure for generalizing capacity factors to regions within each state. The aim of the produced zone system is to simplify the feasibility analysis and push for financial incentives of wind and solar energy investment based on regions.

The progress made on solar energy was the initiation of a database for finding the capacity factors of solar power for 239 sites across the country, by using data provided by NREL within the National Solar Radiation Database. This was followed by the calculation of zones according to capacity factors that are very similar to the zones created for the wind energy power.  Lastly, the solar energy portion of the research included a case study on Southern California’s electrical infrastructure and transmission, which underlined the importance of close financial analysis of power transmission solutions.  The final report from last semester’s studies can be found at this link

The project this semester has focused only on wind energy and has continued with the procedures that were initiated last semester. The details of the work done are under the Methodology section of this web report.