Researchers release global map of renewable energy sites

5 May 2020

Image: chungking/Depositphotos

To better predict the future of renewable energy, researchers have mapped all solar and wind sites across the globe.

Researchers at the University of Southampton claim to be the first to have mapped all solar and wind energy sites across the globe, which they said will provide a valuable resource to assess the potential environmental impact.

In a study published to Scientific Data, the researchers said the new mapping demonstrates both solar and wind’s infrastructure density in different regions and the approximate power output. The estimated share of renewable energy in global electricity generation was more than 26pc by the end of 2018, overwhelmingly led by wind turbines and solar panels.

“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,” said Sebastian Dunnett, lead researcher and PhD student.

“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.”

Global distribution of solar and wind farms showing power output and landscape area.

Global distribution of solar and wind farms showing power output and landscape area. Image: University of Southampton

‘An invaluable resource’

Due to the potential negative consequences that wind and solar sites could have on nearby ecology and wildlife, the researchers also hope that accurate mapping of these locations can give a clearer picture of their environmental footprint.

The map was built using data from the open-access, collaborative global mapping project, OpenStreetMap. The researchers then extracted grouped data records tagged ‘solar’ and ‘wind’, which were cross-referenced with national datasets in order to get a best estimate of power capacity and create maps of solar and wind energy sites.

This helped reveal the dominance of Europe, North America and east Asia in the renewable energy sector, and the results correlated closely with official independent statistics of renewable energy capacity of countries around the world.

Speaking of the findings, study supervisor Prof Felix Eigenbrod said: “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.”

A wind turbine. Image: chungking/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic