Researchers map major renewable energy sites



Researchers at the University of Southampton have mapped the global locations of major renewable energy sites. According to the researchers, this information will provide a valuable resource to help assess their potential environmental impact.

Published in Nature journal, Scientific Data,  the study demonstrates where solar and wind farms currently reside around the world to work as renewable energy sites. It also reveals the density of their infrastructure in different regions, as well as the approximate power output. This is the first global, open-access dataset of wind and solar power generating sites.

By the end of 2018, the estimated share of renewable energy in global electricity generation was more than 26 per cent. At the same time, solar panels and wind turbines are the largest drivers of a rapid increase in renewables. However, there has been little knowledge about the geographic spread of wind and solar farms, as well as limited accessible data, until now.

Authors of the study used data from OpenStreetMap (OSM), open-access and collaborative global mapping project. They extracted group data records tagged “solar” or “wind”, before cross-referencing them with select national datasets. This would help get a best estimate of power capacity, creating their own maps of solar and wind energy sites.

The data reveals the dominance of the renewable energy sector in Europe, North America, and East Asia. The results show positive correlation with official independent statistics of the renewable energy capacity of countries.

Lead researcher and Southampton PhD student Sebastian Dunnett in Biological Sciences explains: “While global land planners are promising more of the planet’s limited space to wind and solar energy, governments are struggling to maintain geospatial information on the rapid expansion of renewables.

“Most existing studies use land suitability and socioeconomic data to estimate the geographical spread of such technologies, but we hope our study will provide more robust publicly available data.”

Study supervisor, Professor Felix Eigenbrod of Geography and Environmental Science at the Southampton added: “This study represents a real milestone in our understanding of where the global green energy revolution is occurring.

“It should be an invaluable resource for researchers for years to come, as we have designed it so it can be updated with the latest information at any point to allow for changes in what is a quickly expanding industry.”

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