Scientists develop detailed solar energy maps for South Carolina

solar energy maps
One of the maps that the Clemson University team created shows the best places in South Carolina for building one-megawatt developments.

According to a new research at Clemson University, South Carolina has more than enough land suitable to generate the large amounts of solar power.

The power would be needed to meet goals calling for all energy to come from renewable sources by 2050.

The team at the university’s Center for Geospatial Technologies created maps showing which lands in South Carolina would be most suitable for generating solar energy at utility scale.

To do this, they ranked South Carolina’s lands on a scale from 0-100, with the higher numbers more suitable for development. The available solar resource was calculated for lands with values of at least 50, 70 and 90.

The researchers found that about 1,256 square miles, or 4.2% of state land area, had a suitability value of at least 70 for 5-megawatt developments.

For 1-megawatt developments, about 2,340 square miles had suitability value of at least 70. That’s slightly smaller than the size of Delaware and would be enough to install 69.6 gigawatts of capacity, researchers found.

It would be enough to power more than 7 million homes and would far exceed the 6.7 gigawatts that Stanford University researchers suggested the state generate in solar energy.

Although suitable lands for 1- and 5-megawatt developments are peppered across the state, the highest concentration is in a swath that runs from the North Carolina state line around Marlboro, Dillon and Horry counties to the Lake Marion area.

The team eliminated unsuitable lands, including urban areas, airports, national forests, parks, national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and protected marine environments.

Researchers also considered slope and aspect. The best place to install the solar PV panels that soak up the sun’s rays are in flat areas. When there is a slope, it should face south to get the most exposure to the sun.

The research can help South Carolina continue its explosive growth in generating solar energy, while minimizing conflicts that could arise over land use.

Although the study focused on South Carolina, the model the team created could do the same analysis for other states.

The research is published in BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality. It applies to utility-scale solar power only.

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Citation: Farthing A, et al. (2016). Utility-Scale Solar PV in South Carolina: Analysis of Suitable Lands and Geographical Potential. BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality, 1:8. DOI:10.1007/s41247-016-0009-5.
Figure legend: This image is credited to Clemson University.