In the modern day, another transformation is taking place; a mixture of forces is driving the globe energy sector from that of carbon centric system to one that focuses on efficiency and relies on several sources, including solar. By 2012, of the net total addition to the electricity generating capability globally, half was sources from renewable sources (Ison et al. 2013). In the US, since 2008 electricity generation from renewable energy sources in particular wind and solar have more than doubled. There has also been a sharp and huge unforeseen growth in the American shale oil and gas market which has changed the dynamics of not only the American oil and gas industry, but also the global market. This change has been largely credited as a contributing factor to the renaissance of manufacturing in the US (Beringer et al. 2011). As a result of the growing renewable energy globally, there has been a significant decline in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which reached a 20 year low in 2012 (Christie & Bradley 2012). At the same time, the global energy business has morphosised from a kilowatt hour platform to one that focuses on energy. Driving this change is Geographical Information System (GIS). This technology has numerous roles in the promotion of a sustainable energy future especially in wind, hydro, and solar, and geothermal energy. Thus, this essay seeks to establish and discuss the various roles that GIS has in promotion of a sustainable energy future. This will be done through review of literature and presentation of energy projects that have utilized GIS.
Geographical Information System (GIS)
GIS is a technological tool used for comprehension of geography and development of intelligent decisions. This tool has the capabilities to organize geographical data in such a way that a person reading the resultant ‘report’ can select information relevant to what they exactly need with regard to the task or the project. Basically, the tool borrows from the typical way thinking. For humans, making a decision related to geography is basic to human thinking and the issues concerned include consideration of; where to from here, what would be the experience, and what next after reaching there. These are the very same questions that are involved even in complex projects like launching a bathysphere in to the depths of the ocean. It is therefore true to argue that, by understanding geography and the relation of location to persons, then it is possible to make informed decisions on how to live and maximize available opportunities on the planet (Popp et al. 2011; IPART 2011).
On the other dimension, thematic maps have a table of contents where the user can add layers of data to a base map of actual locations. For example, for example, a civil engineer can use a base map of an area, e.g. Eugene, Oregon and select data sets from the Department of Energy (DOE) and add layers to the map that would then show areas income, electricity usage, distribution of energy in the areas, and major sources of energy. GIS bears this capability and thus, users can combine datasets of varying variety in an infinite number of ways (Kaundinya et al. 2013). Given the potential presented by GIS, it has become a useful tool not only in energy and geography, but in almost every field of information and knowledge. The use of GIS is whatever front gives people a geographical advantage as well as the power to be more productive, more informed, and more responsive to the plant, which signifies its resourcefulness in the promotion of sustainable energy.
GIS in the promotion of sustainable energy
Humankind is currently and for the last few decades faced with the grim prediction on the status of energy supply and its consumption. As a result, the response is characterized by tremendous efforts aimed at utilizing and propagation of renewable energy resources. In particular, humankind is currently looking into ways to effectively and efficiently tap wind energy, geothermal energy, solar, and biomass energy. In addition to tapping into these sources of renewable energy, humans are looking for smarter, cleaner, and more conscientious methods for production of energy, its distribution and transmission to consumption points (Field et al. 2008). In all the above stages, GIS technology providing incredible support as well as underlying the outline of this change. According to Hyder and Global Renewables (2012), GIS technology is also promoting the manner in which humans produce and distribute energy and thus, the perspective in which humans have viewed the plant.
- American DOE Renewable Energy GIS maps for Wind resources
The American DOE was established by President Jimmy Carter and the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) located in Golden, Colorado opened. In 1991, SERI set aside what came to be the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) (Moriarty 2013). NREL role is research on renewable energy resources primarily on efficient research and development in America. Being the primary lab for the research on renewable energy in the US, NREL works on n effort to advance the various renewable resources in the country namely, wind, solar, hydro, fuel cells, biomass, and geothermal. Regardless of focus on these, wind happens to be the most developed in the country’s renewable energy market. The target for investments in wind energy is to have the resource contribute 20% of America’s electricity supply by 2013 (ISF 2013).
In 2008, DOE released a report on how this target was to be realized and it provided a road map for reaching the 20% contribution into the country power grid by 2013. The report provided steps and the various challenges expected. In the process of the report, NREL team was required to update their wind resource maps, which was a critical part of the wind deployment model to be used for the 20% target (Christie & Bradley 2012). To realize these goals, the team used ArcGIS Desktop software which was available though a licensed agreement with the US government. As a result of using this tool, the NREAL team was able to establish the locations best suited for development of wind farms taking into consideration vital factors like costs of transmission, layout of the American electrical grid, and locations of load centers and wind resources (). Of key importance is the fact that, GIS enabled the team to determine terrain through modeling, a factors which has significant effect on wind quality for any potential site.
In addition, the NREL used GIS to evaluate economic development potential on the basis of strong manufacturing centers and was able to filter this data to exclude areas that included national parks and national protectorate areas. Thus, the team was able to use GIS for policy analysis, and analyze its implementation. The main users of GIS in this context were policy makers both at national and project level and the primary role of GIS was to provide information that enable the policy makers understand what their resource is. NREL has continued to use GIS mainly for utility developers where the team creates model for forecasting. These models help the utility in knowing he average wind speed at a given locations (Kaundinya et al. 2013).
- GIS for visualization and Maps data in Cascade County, Montana
Cascade County, Montana is a county that sits in Great Falls and lies on the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains that are popular for their powerful Chinook winds. As a result, the county is presented with an enormous wind resource which the county authorities have sought o tap unto and use it to power developments within the county. As a result, the county is using GIS to aid developers who are interested in wind investment. GIS provides easy reliable and powerful tool that helps these developers to examine the wind potential on the various available parcels of land that are available on lease (Christie & Bradley 2012). As a result of the potential presented by GIS and in particular the potential to examine a specific parcel of land, developers have taken interest not only in the US, but up to Japan and Ireland, and not only on the cascade lease parcels, but also the capabilities of GIS with interest at an international level.
GIS helps the county increase generation of green energy thus cutting down on GHG emissions. In addition, and particularly to cascade county, GIS has helped to indirectly raise its tax base. In the first years of taxation, Cascade County authorities estimated that each of the commercial wind turbines would generate $25,000 to the community (Rae et al. 2009). According to Zambelli et al. (2012), the use of GIS is advantageous in marketing wind energy because it provides potential investors with all the information they need on whether to or not place a wind turbine in their land parcels and if they pace one, whether it will be able to meet their energy needs and at what estimated budget. To this end, GIS role is not only to large-scale national or state level projects, but even for small scale individual-investor levels which is an indication of the tremendous capability presented by GIS. It doing do, it cuts down or research and development costs that would have been otherwise lost through try and error projects.
- Web GIS in showcasing Boston’s solar power potential
In 2007, Boston authorities through a mayoral executive order set GHG reduction goals as well as outlined the cities strategies aimed at recycling and renewing energy. The order formed the basis for the formation of solar Boston, a project projected to run for two years at the cost of $550,000 with its objective being to expand the city’s solar power generation and utilization (Vasilis et al. 2008). Driven by the goals to meeting GHG reduction targets, Boston set to realize a 25 megawatts solar power installation by 2015. To help in the realization of this ambitious project, the city used web GIS technology for mapping the already installed solar equipments and their capability and thus determines the balance. Towards meeting this balance, Boston still used web GIS to track progress as well as allow the residents of Boston analyze their potential for rooftop solar installations.
To maximize on the solar potential for the city of Boston, the city requires that all large building be fitted with solar power in line with keeping with the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) standards for green building (Vasilis et al. 2008). Boston became the first US city to require large private-sector building observe the green building standards thus help in meeting the GHG reduction objectives. In addition to doing this, the city helped to cut on the risk of blackouts. In starting this project, analysts used ArcGIS Desktop software to calculate solar energy radiation available on the rooftops of buildings. This required that the analysts build a digital evaluation model (DEM) of the city of Boston. Solar radiation from each rooftop was calculated with spatial Analysts, and this was done by taking into consideration factors like building elevation, orientation, shadow cast by topographic features, and solar changes with time of day or the year.
After analyzing this data with the ArcGIS Desktop software, maps of solar radiation were published together with the base map, a locator address, layers of interest e.g. historic and local electric utility districts, and geoprocessing tools. Publishing of this information was done at the ArcGIS server so as to allow utilization by the solar Boston web application (Kaundinya et al. 2013). However, this took about 30 seconds to complete the solar radiation calculation which necessitated reprocessing to create a more responsive web application. The analytics were wrapped unto easy-to-use Web GIS application which is the current tool for solar radiation analysis in Boston and thus, determines rooftop solar energy potential for individual building owners.
GIS offers a wide potential in supporting the promotion of adoption and utilization of sustainable energy in the future. With specificity to the USA, GIS has played a cortical role in solving some of the primary concerns that curtail the adoption of sustainable renewable energy sources. These are; what is the potential of the renewable energy resource, whether it should be able to meet energy needs, and at what cost. Whether in the form of ArcGIS in American DOE Renewable Energy GIS maps for Wind resources, GIS in visualization and Mapping wind data in Cascade County, Montana, or Web GIS in showcasing Boston’s solar power potential, this technology has proven highly useful in promoting the adoption of renewable energy.
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