Solar and Wind Power in the United States

Where is solar and wind power generated in the US? Let's visualize this data on a map...

I recently saw the following map on the website. It caught my attention because it looks like North Carolina has a lot of solar power plants, whereas our neighboring states have very few. This seemed odd at first glance, and made me wonder if their map might be incorrect ...

I had recently been mapping other data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and since I already had their data imported into SAS, I thought I'd try re-creating the wind/solar map.

I only made a few changes to their map. I decided to use the 2014 final data rather than the 2015 early release data. I made the title a little bigger, and I used circular markers for both solar and wind, rather than using 2 lines for wind (the circular markers are easier to see the mouse-over text when the markers are densely packed).

Here's my SAS version of the map -- click on it to see the full-size interactive map, with mouse-over text showing the name and address of each plant.


How'd he do that?
I often share the technical coding details, so the SAS programmers out there can get an idea of how to create similar graphs. In this case, I downloaded the EIA Excel spreadsheet with the energy production data, and imported into SAS using Proc Import. I had to also download & import the spreadsheet with the plant information (which contains the lat/long of each plant), and merge that with the production data using a Proc Sql join. I combined the data and the map, and used Proc Gproject to get the map projection (or the look) I wanted ... but it was a little tricky because I handled Alaska and Hawaii separately, so I could move & scale them differently. I annotated the power plants on the map using the annotate pie function with style='pempty' (so the pies were just circular outlines rather than filled). And last, but not least, I used the note statement to place the title text inside the map area (whereas the title statement would have forced the titles to be north of the northernmost map area).

My map looks very similar to the one on the metricmaps website (even with a different year's data), therefore I think their map is an accurate representation of the EIA data. Perhaps NC has more solar power plants than its neighbors because of the Senate Bill 3 that required the state to generate at least 12.5% of its power from renewable sources by 2021? Or perhaps other states aren't documenting small solar power installations?

Whatever the reason, I'm happy to see that NC is well represented on the solar power map. And as I was hovering over the red markers, I found the marker for the SAS Solar Farm -- the mouse-over text says that it produced 3,375 megawatt hours of power in 2014. Not too shabby, eh!?!

Here's a picture of some of our solar panels here at SAS, and the sheep that keep the grass trimmed under them (yes, it truly is a solar farm in both senses of the word!)

What's your opinion on solar power? Do you think it will play a major role in satisfying our future energy needs, or will something else come along that will revolutionize the way we produce and consume electricity?

This content was reposted from the SAS Learning Post. Go there to see the original post.

Robert Allison, The Graph Guy!, SAS

Robert Allison has worked at SAS for more than 20 years and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in computer science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book calledSAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics.

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Off-grid is the way to go
  • 8/31/2016 11:45:54 PM

I've read that big solar plants have already damaged the grid because of the way panels supply energy. Given that, I'd think the best way for solar to be adopted is through off-grid setups. It'll cost a lot upfront but as others have already stated, costs are slowly going down as efficiencies increase. Wind, on the other hand, has a long way to go. I'd think they'd be great though for RVers—zoom along the highway and generate electricity in the process.

Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/22/2016 8:28:58 AM

We haven't heard much about supercapacitors in the last few years but big battery news seems to pop up every few months.  Now we just need those batteries to materialize.  If we could bank enough power to run a home for a couple of days at a cost within 10% of being attached to the grid, then I think we would see a real boom in home solar even if it meant changing usage habits.  When I was a kid I helped my dad build a solar greenhouse on the side of a family  member's home.  It warmed a large living space fairly well in the winter but the way the family lived was very different than what most Americans are accustomed to.  Not many of us burn wood in a stove to heat a home anymore and we don't put on a sweater before turning up the heat.  I think to really make the most of renewable energy we're going to need two shifts, the first is the storage and the second is more mindful usage. 

Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/19/2016 4:19:22 PM


SaneIT writes

 I think this is a good reason to watch Tesla and similar electric auto manufacturers, they are pushing battery technologies that will bleed over into storing power for our homes.  Even if you covered your roof in the most efficient solar panels available you're out of luck when the sun goes down.  Right now if you start looking into it the market is being propped up by very old battery technology because it is cheap not because it is good. 


I strongly agree that, to make functional and economic sense, advances in solar and wind power generation must be accompanied by leaps in the functionality and affordability of energy storage technology. Currently, this mainly includes battery and supercapacitor storage.


Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/16/2016 9:58:13 PM

Predictable, I did one Google search for "fossil fuel subsidies," and came up with plenty of evidence. One report I found claimed: "national subsidies to oil, gas and coal producers amount to $20.5 billion annually in the U.S., with almost all of those being received in the form of tax or royalty breaks. Federal subsidies amount to $17.2 billion annually, while subsidies in a number of oil-, gas- and coal-producing states average $3.3 billion annually." 

Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/16/2016 3:21:46 PM

Predictable it is true they are still cost prohibitive or the average person but they are getting better. It would be interesting to see the government offer the major home builders in America such as Toll Brothers, Pulte etc. the incentives to build green subdivisions it would create homes that protect our environment into the future and don't require retrofitting of green technology that could be too costly for many. It would also be great to see incentives regarding green skyscrapers and apartment complexes.

Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/16/2016 10:52:30 AM

@Broadway - What subsidies are you thinking of for fossil fuels?

I agree with @kq4ym - solar and wind are currently only economically viable if someone wants to subsidize them. It can be a government or a customer or some combination. (You can also add ethanol to this list.)

This is not the case for fossil fuels, which can and have survived even with 2x price changes in the raw material.


Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/16/2016 8:38:49 AM

@Broadway, I think this is a good reason to watch Tesla and similar electric auto manufacturers, they are pushing battery technologies that will bleed over into storing power for our homes.  Even if you covered your roof in the most efficient solar panels available you're out of luck when the sun goes down.  Right now if you start looking into it the market is being propped up by very old battery technology because it is cheap not because it is good.  Tesla's Powerwall makes sense until you consider the ROI even if you're charging it using "free" solar power is still 31 years. Until those costs come down, wind and solar power generated in the home will continue to be a dream.   

Re: SAS's solar farm in NC
  • 8/16/2016 8:28:03 AM

Interesting website you've got there, Lyndon!

SAS's solar farm in NC
  • 8/16/2016 8:14:10 AM


A while back (like over a year ago) I had been eyeing SAS's North Carolina solar farm as the focus of a possible post for my own blog site (which is badly in need of updating). Haven't got there yet due to multiple workload avalanches.

Anyway, for what it's worth, one of my articles (Wind, solar PV power leap ahead in clean, sustainable energy "revolution") gave a fairly useful overview in the advances in both solar and wind power generation.


Re: Wind and Solar Power Designs
  • 8/15/2016 10:52:56 PM

Terry, you know what would be ironic? If all of the rigs in the Gulf were powered with windmills and solar panels. Otherwise, that's the heart of oil and gas country. It's a shame that solid energy sense often gets confused for a political identity.

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