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  • Kendall Merkel, Texas Tech University

Renewables for Open Source Data

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

At first thought it doesn’t seem as though the renewable industry and open source data don’t have much in common. However open source data is vastly important to the renewable energy industry in many ways. I think for undergraduate students in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) major such as Wind Energy at Texas Tech, the concept of using open source data seems a little mysterious. I think the main curiosity involves what exactly it could bring to their respective industries.

Since I do not major in Geography or GIS, I was not introduced to the concept of open source data until I was three years into my collegiate career. I have been able to learn about ARC GIS, QGIS and Open Street Map over the course of the past two years through both the Geography and Wind Energy departments at Texas Tech.

Currently in a class I am enrolled in through the Wind Energy department, we are using QGIS to digitize site suitability data for placing wind farms on land outside of Fort Worth, Texas. Through this I have used TNRIS, Texas Natural Resources Information Systems, data on roads and water bodies, as well as Google Earth to help digitize data via my instructor’s suggestions. However, I have also utilized Open Street Map data to help with the digitization process. Site suitability for a wind farm takes a great deal of consideration. This includes wind scalar data as well as physical data on roads, oil wells (especially in Texas), railroads, water bodies, transmission lines, and other factors that need to be noted. Some of these factors have already been digitized and are readily available on websites such as TNRIS, however some of this data is easier to digitize with open aerial imagery.

Thankfully my background in Open Street Map, paired with a YouthMappers internship with the USAID's GeoCenter has helped greatly increase my digitizing skills. Without any of this data, it would be nearly impossible to reasonably quantitate the best sites on a plot of land to place wind turbines. GIS helps in ways that are equally practical, economical, more precise and all around better for every partner included in a developing a wind farm. Not only is it helpful for wind developmental planning, but also it is also helpful for other renewable power sites such as solar and hydroelectric dams. The importance of GIS and open source data to renewable industries is often overlooked, but I think of it as almost a backbone to the success of a wind project.

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