For over a year I've been asking whether people know of attempts to use GIS to identify optimal locations for wind and solar facilities. My thought was that we would develop GIS layers for key factors such as: land ownership, access to roads and power lines, visibility to settled areas and traveled roads, etc... Then we would overlap a map of resource availability (hours of sunlight or wind over certain speeds). The result would be a map that could help plan how we move to a society fueled by renewable energy.
Well, today I learned about a student GIS project team at Stanford that elected to do this for Washington State. Their webpage with their maps and report is available here. It doesn't look like a permanent site, so you might try searching for: Group 11: Washington State Renewable Energy: Identifying Optimal Locations. By: Lindsay Willman, Michael Galka, Andrea Romano, Danny Stewart.
While certainly valuable, I think we need to be highly conscious of the way that maps like this might make land owners feel. I suppose some people might be excited about the possibility of their land being developed for renewable energy. But others might feel threatened by their parcel's inclusion in a map of a wind or solar farm.
Ideally, Washington needs to begin having renewable energy dialogues with people across the state about how to make the transition off of fossil fuels. Maps like these might help stimulate interest in such dialogues.
It would also be advantageous to have another GIS team independently do the same analysis to see how much certainty we have about the suitability of these locations. There is lots of work to be done if we are to transition off of fossil fuels. It's exciting to see what student project teams can do!
directs research at the Energy Trans Lab