A new tool from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows how fossil fuels infrastructure crosses every part of the country. It also shows existing and potential for renewable energy. With all the debate around the proposed new natural gas pipeline in Massachusetts, this tool can help us better understand our energy infrastructure and its implications . You can start with the entire country, and then zoom into Massachusetts to see how we compare against other states.

Non-renewable energy resources dominate the U.S.

As you can see in the first map below, our oil network is heavily concentrated in the south central region of the country. At the same time, as we transition from oil to natural gas, the gas network in the second map is almost as extensive as our oil network, and also heavily concentrated in the south central and southern northeast regions. The third map shows how the rest of the country gains access to natural gas through inter- and intra-state pipelines. These three maps demonstrate our constraints around access to, and therefore heavy reliance on, certain energy resources.

These maps also help explain why energy costs vary across the country. Take gasoline for example. Differences in state gas taxes and the types of gasoline used in each state explain some of the disparity in gasoline prices across the country. However, the cost of crude oil available to refineries in different parts of the country is perhaps the most limiting factor, especially when you take into account the infrastructure needed to transport it to each customer. In states like California and our own Massachusetts where infrastructure is lacking, higher gasoline prices result. Additionally, the various types of required infrastructure for these fuel types can be seen in the next map.

But the question remains, will the new pipeline feed our reliance on fossil fuels instead of helping us transition to clean, renewable energy sources?

Here in Massachusetts, tensions are high as Kinder Morgan attempts to install a 180-mile gas pipeline from New York to a transmission hub just north of Boston. This proposal could help quell the ever-increasing demand for natural gas, especially during the winter when demand peaks. It could also bring New England's energy prices more in-line with our regional neighbors. But the question remains, will the new pipeline feed our reliance on fossil fuels instead of helping us transition to clean, renewable energy sources?

 

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Oil Wells (light brown areas) and Crude Oil Pipelines (dark brown lines)

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Gas Wells (blue areas) and Natural Gas Pipelines (green-blue lines)

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Natural Gas Pipelines (green-blue lines) and Natural Gas Inter/Intra State Pipelines (dark blue lines)

The potential for renewables in the U.S. and Massachusetts is high

The mapping features that get us excited are the ones that show us our clean, renewable energy potential. Although we have certainly made inroads in the renewable energy industry, there is certainly room for improvement. The area of the U.S. with the highest biomass potential has yet to be harnessed, yet other places around the country are tapping into what little potential they have. Geothermal tells the same story, although the majority of geothermal plants are actually located in the area with the highest potential.

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(Biomass Power Plants and Biomass Potential (darker areas represent higher potential)

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(Geothermal Power Plants and Geothermal Potential (darker areas represent higher potential)

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(Solar Power Plants and Photovoltaic Solar Potential (darker areas represent higher potentials due to more sunlight)

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(Wind Power Plants and On Shore 50-meter Tower Wind Potential (darker blues represent areas of higher potential, lighter blue is good, brown is bad

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(Wind Power Plants and On Shore 50-meter Tower Wind Potential (darker blues represent areas of higher potential, lighter blue is good, brown is bad)

Solar energy is one of the most untapped resources in the country. The southwestern U.S. gets more sunlight than any other part of the country and it is a fast-growing area of the U.S. due to the warm, dry climate, which drives up their energy costs due to the need for air conditioning. Yet they have the highest potential for capturing solar energy. Here in New England, our potential isn’t nearly as high, though we have begun to take advantage of what potential we do have. On-shore wind is another area where many parts of the U.S. are tapping into the smallest potential for capturing wind energy, yet the area of the US with the largest potential has yet to see substantial, productive wind farms. Off-shore wind is another renewable resource that hasn’t had much traction in the U.S…yet. However, the areas with the greatest potential are relatively few, which can make it more difficult to implement. The west coast and east coast states as well as the Great Lakes states have the greatest potential.

Massachusetts is number six in the country for installed solar capacity, which is impressive considering our small geographic area and low solar potential.

Current and Potential Renewable Energy Resources and Opportunities in Massachusetts

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(Solar Power Plants and Photovoltaic Solar Potential)

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(Wind Power Plants and On Shore 50-meter Tower Wind Potential (darker blues represent areas of higher potential, lighter blue is good, brown is bad)

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Wind Power Plants and Off Shore 90-meter Tower Wind Speed (darker blues represent areas with higher wind speeds)

The renewable energy sources that Massachusetts is best positioned for capturing is wind and solar energy. A handful of wind power plants are scattered throughout the state, yet our highest potential is in the northern Berkshires and along the coastline. At the same time, we have a unique opportunity to take advantage of off-shore wind energy. Solar is another resource we could take advantage of, although while our potential is relatively low compared to other parts of the US, our potential is uniform across the state. This means we can implement solar just about anywhere, and we have begun to do just that. Massachusetts is number six in the country for installed solar capacity, which is impressive considering our small geographic area and low solar potential.

One limitation to this tool is that it does not capture each individual solar array or wind turbine - it doesn't capture small, residential sources as of now. For more detailed information on the renewable energy sources in the City of Boston, see Renew Boston’s Solar Map.

So, take some time, explore this mapping tool, and drop some knowledge on your family and friends. If you are interested in renewable energy for your home in Boston, visit our resource page to learn all about the programs and incentives.


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