Estimating National-Scale Wind Potential Using Spatially Explicit Turbine Layout Optimization

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


National renewable energy potential assessments play a broad and critical role in analysis of the clean energy transition by providing foundational estimates of developable clean resources. Common to all past wind potential assessments is an assumption that wraps the complexity of wind plant layout (arrangement of turbines) into a single metric known as capacity density, or rated power capacity per unit of land area. Quite often, a singular capacity density or rotor-diameter driven capacity density is used in wind potential assessments across broad geographies despite the complexities of local drivers. Here, we present a new wind technical potential assessment for the United States, leveraging a spatial optimization approach in lieu of the traditional uniform capacity density. The optimization approach is a spatially explicit method for determining the potential locations of individual wind turbines-taking into account the turbine configuration, plant economics and losses, wind resource, and siting considerations. Our approach accounts for the interactions between wind technology design, wind plant layout, and the vast array of regulatory, land use and infrastructure conflicts with wind development. Our results highlight the potential ability of larger turbines to enable increased wind capacity, up to a point, and increased generation when siting turbines in and around spatial constraints; moreover, they demonstrate and capture the LCOE benefit of relatively lower capacity densities and reduced wake losses when land is relatively abundant. These insights provide foundational knowledge for the wind sector as it develops and pursues future turbine models and as wind energy markets expand in zero-carbon futures. Further, when applied in capacity expansion models, supply curves developed by these methods can provide detailed local insights about where wind turbines might be deployed in and among known siting constraints for those regions where wind energy is determined to be economic, providing critical nuance to local decision-makers and stakeholders.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages25
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-85075


  • capacity density
  • optimization
  • technical potential
  • wind


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