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US varsity students create renewable energy maps

Iowa, US: Students from the University of Iowa’s (UI) School of Urban and Regional Planning developed a new tool for the city to identify untapped renewable energy sources. The students created an interactive, Web-based map that can be used by residents and businesses to pinpoint their property’s renewable energy potential, including solar, wind and geothermal power. The tool is the first of its kind in the US, according to the researchers.

“Our goal is to not just make this a study that would be useful for the city of Dubuque, but it would also be a study that could be replicated throughout the country for other cities, county governments and whoever is trying to evaluate their renewable energy potential,” said Nick Benson, who graduated with his master’s degree in May after working on the project and now works in the city of Iowa City’s Planning Department.

Using GIS, mapping technology, the UI team’s Web application allows users to see the solar radiation intensity for each parcel in the city down to 4-by-4-foot sections.

“They were able to show not only which parcels got more sun, but which parts of the parcels and which parts of the building on the parcel got more sun,” said professor Charles Connerly, director of the school of urban and regional planning.

The students also used anemometer data collected from atop Dubuque’s bluffs and downtown buildings to compile a similar wind map, then catalogued leaking underground storage tanks to determine areas where geothermal systems could not be planted.

UI partnered with the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation for the USD 80,000, two-year project.

Benson said there have been similar municipal studies nationally, but UI’s — which also made policy recommendations on how the city could encourage renewable energy uses — is the most in-depth.

“For example, the city of Los Angeles has a solar map where you can click on individual parcels and click on the solar capacity of the parcel, but there’s never been a comprehensive look at all three renewable energies we looked at,” Benson said. “In particular, wind was probably the most innovative one because wind at the urban scale has not been studied very much before because it’s so varied and it’s so difficult to get measurements. We were one of the first studies to actually be able to map that at the urban scale.”

Source: Press-Citizen