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The US Energy Revolution Will Be Regional

Solar, wind, geothermal, or nuclear: which alternative technology will be the foundation of an America free from fossil energy? A typical energy engineering calculation I ask of my students is to estimate the solar panel area needed to meet the energy needs of the country. I leave it to them to discover that the answer depends on where the arrays are placed and how they are distributed. Arizona is sunnier than Maine.

It is likely there will be no single alternative energy technology behind which the whole country can unify. The nation’s resource base is distributed, with different concentrations dominating different regions. To most effectively harness available resources, each region must tune its energy technology deployment strategy to focus on local resource availability. Out of curiosity, I examined maps available from various federal agencies for Wind Resource Base, Solar Resource Base, Geothermal Resource Base, and Nuclear Power Plant Location. Comparing these distribution maps to geographic locations of America’s ten largest cities yields a prediction of which alternative energy technologies will become prominent in each region of the country. The following is my prediction.

1. New York, NY: Wind, Nuclear

2. Los Angeles, CA: Solar, Geothermal

3. Chicago, IL: Wind, Nuclear

4. Houston, TX: Solar, Geothermal

5. Phoenix, AZ: Solar, Geothermal

6. Philadelphia, PA, Nuclear

7. San Antonio, TX: Solar, Geothermal

8. Dallas, TX: Solar, Nuclear

9. San Diego, CA Solar, Nuclear

10. San Jose, CA: Solar, Wind, Geothermal

Almost all these large population centers are located near at least one high-quality renewable resource. Where renewable energy is limited, for example in Philadelphia, existing nuclear power plants are abundant. One must traverse the list down to #14, Indianapolis, to find a large city without proximity to a non-fossil-fuel energy source. Indiana had better start cracking on viable agriculturally-derived bio-fuel alternatives for energy generation!

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