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CSI Maps Wind and Solar Potentials Across WA

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure recently hired a Graduate Research Assistant to investigate the potential for renewable energy generation throughout Washington State. Read on to learn more about the findings and how they will inform our upcoming Infrastructure Excellence & Jobs Strategy for Washington.

By Tyson West, Graduate Research Assistant Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

Renewables are a fast-growing segment of the energy market with ever increasing support from citizens. Wind and solar power are at the forefront of the green energy transition across the world as well as in the US. Communities throughout Washington are now investing major resources to support this transition off fossil fuels, and fortunately the state is already ahead of the curve since it generates a substantial amount of power from hydroelectric dams.

Evergreen’s Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) has initiated conversations with legislators from twelve districts representing different parts of the state to explore bipartisan ideas that will support infrastructure improvements while generating new jobs. One idea is to help finance local investments in utility-scale clean energy projects.

As part of this effort, CSI has mapped the solar and wind potential of the 12 districts to provide examples of communities where these technologies will be particularly impactful. The goal is to “help local communities tap local resources to build local prosperity.” Identifying regions with the best solar and wind resources may encourage stakeholders to take advantage of untapped resources that will generate local jobs and allow them to become more self sufficient as opposed to outsourcing their energy production like most communities do.

For an area to have utility scale wind power, a number of factors are considered but the most important one is the daily average wind speed in a given area. 11 miles per hour (5 meters per second) is the industry standard for economically viable wind farms. Solar energy similarly has multiple factors that go into figuring out a site’s potential, but the most crucial factor is the average daily sunlight. For solar farms to be economically viable, the industry standard is 3.5 kilowatt hours per square meter.

Many regions within the 12 districts we’ve initially explored have the potential wind and solar resources needed to build economically viable energy facilities, especially on the eastern side of the Cascades where there are sunnier and windier conditions.

WA solar energy potentials, >3.5 kWh/sq.m/day = viable.

WA wind energy potentials, >5 m/s at 80-meter height = viable.

As it stands now, wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, with wind power currently being the cheapest form of energy in the US, beating even fossil fuels. The levelized cost of energy (LCOE), which takes into account the production, maintenance, subsidies, and many other factors, is continually falling for both wind and solar. This is only making these technologies more profitable to implement, with upfront costs being the largest barrier to entry.

Washington State has a lot of potential to reinvest in its energy sector since there are so few solar projects and only a modest amount of wind farms in use currently. The state already produces much of its electricity from clean energy, but divesting from fossil fuels into wind and solar would put the state on track to become one of the first states to produce nearly all of its own power from clean energy sources, while saving tax payers money in the process.


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