Interactive DOE Map Helps Site Renewables

As more and more utilities seek information on where to site renewable generation (solar, wind, and other clean energy infrastructure projects), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has stepped in to help through its Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). The new tool, called the Geospatial Energy Mapper (GEM), is a comprehensive, interactive online mapping tool that can help electric utilities and other entities identify areas across the country that are suitable for wind, solar, and other clean energy infrastructure projects.

First publicly launched in 2013 as the Energy Zones Mapping Tool (EZMT), GEM has been redesigned, rebranded, and reengineered. GEM is hosted by ANL with funding from the DOE’s Office of Electricity. “In GEM, we applied lessons learned from almost 10 years hosting the EZMT, including making it easier to learn and use, updating the software architecture, and choosing a name fitting its current scope of uses,” said Jim Kuiper, principal geospatial engineer and GEM technical coordinator.

“Choosing where to build utility-scale renewable energy development is a tremendously important decision with effects that reverberate beyond the generation of electricity,” said Michael Levin, a GEM user and Ph.D. student studying renewable energy landscapes at Columbia University. ​“GEM not only makes energy suitability maps public, but allows for the user to customize the model used to produce such a map.”

GEM offers an extensive catalog of mapping data. This includes energy resources and infrastructure, as well as other information that might influence energy infrastructure siting decisions. GEM features over 190 different mapping layers, including demographics, boundaries, and utilities, allowing users to locate areas for clean power generation, electric vehicle charging stations, and more.

One of the new features is mapping themes, which allow the map to be rapidly set up for a particular focus, like solar, wind or electric vehicles. This new feature helps users quickly load multiple layers related to a particular technology or resource without having to manually browse the mapping catalog and add individual layers to the map. With GEM’s modeling capabilities, users can generate a customized suitability map or ​“heat map.” This map shows which geographical areas in the United States are favorable for the development of certain energy resources and infrastructures.

GEM includes preconfigured models for over 40 types of energy infrastructure. Land-based wind turbines or utility-scale photovoltaic solar are two examples. This provides a convenient starting point that users can then easily customize. GEM has nearly 100 modeling criteria from which to choose. Population density, proximity to nearest substation, slope, wildfire risk, and low-income household percentage are just a few examples. Nine types of energy resources can be analyzed for clean energy resource development. They include biomass, coal (with carbon capture and sequestration), geothermal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, storage, water, and wind.

GEM is expected to have a diverse community of users much like the EZMT, including planners and regulators at all levels of government, private industry, public service commissions, and regional transmission organizations. In addition, national laboratories, educational institutions, energy and natural resource non-profit organizations, and private individuals have all been EZMT users.


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