Renewable Energy Potential on Marginal Lands in the United States

Anelia R. Milbrandt, Donna M. Heimiller, Andrew D. Perry, Christopher B. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus Citations


This study identifies several marginal land categories suitable for renewable energy development, representing about 11% of U.S. mainland. The authors define marginal lands as areas with inherent disadvantages or lands that have been marginalized by natural and/or artificial forces. These lands are generally underused, difficult to cultivate, have low economic value, and varied developmental potential. The study finds that a significant potential exists for renewable energy development on these lands. Technologies assessed include utility-scale photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power (CSP), wind, hydrothermal geothermal, mini-hydro systems (low head/low power), biomass power, and landfill gas-to-energy. Solar technologies present the highest opportunity, followed by wind and biomass power. It is estimated that about 4.5 PWh of electricity could be produced from PV on marginal lands in the conterminous United States, 4 PWh from CSP, 2.7 PWh from wind, 1.9 PWh from biomass, 11 TWh from mini-hydropower systems, 8.8 TWh from hydrothermal geothermal, and 7.3 TWh from landfill gas. While it is possible for some technologies to be co-located, it is more likely that only one will be deployed in a given area. Thus, it is most reasonable to view the potential for different technologies separately.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)473-481
Number of pages9
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
StatePublished - 2014

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A50-54292


  • Marginal lands
  • Renewable energy
  • Renewable resources


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