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City energysheds and renewable energy in the United States


Cities are powerful political and economic entities, and for many cities cultivating renewable energy penetration is sound economic policy. Many power plants in the United States will need to be replaced in the coming decades, so opportunities for renewable energy development are imminent. Although numerous cities have committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity needs from renewables, those cities represent a very small portion of cities across the United States. Due to their high energy consumption, cities have environmental impacts in areas far from their centre but are often unaware of these impacts and are thus unmotivated to undergo a transition to more sustainable energy sources. Herein we present a spatial framework for matching the supply of energy to demand across the electricity grid that allows for allocation of city energysheds. A city energyshed comprises the network of power plants that supply a given city and the amount of energy drawn from each plant. The power plant–city links revealed by energysheds allow for estimations of a city’s energy mix and environmental footprint from electricity consumption, and provide urban areas with insights into their energy sources that can catalyse renewable energy penetration for cities seeking to expand their renewable portfolio.

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Fig. 1: Energysheds of select cities for 2010.
Fig. 2: Energyshed size, city population, annual city electricity consumption and average distance from city to plants supplying electricity to city.
Fig. 3: City electricity use and environmental footprints.
Fig. 4: Competition for electricity between selected cities in 2010.
Fig. 5: Future grid congestion and megaregions.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was conducted by employees of UT-Battelle under contract no. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the US Department of Energy. The authors thank B. Bhaduri, J. Neal, S. Wullschleger and J. Gulledge for support of the research concept, and J. Piburn and R. Stewart for assistance with residential energy demand estimates. Funding was provided by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program and by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research, Integrated Assessment Program.

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C.R.D., R.A.M. and S.S.N. designed the research. C.R.D. and R.A.M. performed the research. C.R.D., R.A.M. and A.M.M. collected the data and performed the analysis. C.R.D. and R.A.M. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Ryan A. McManamay.

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DeRolph, C.R., McManamay, R.A., Morton, A.M. et al. City energysheds and renewable energy in the United States. Nat Sustain 2, 412–420 (2019).

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