NREL: Data Democratized: RE Data Explorer Enhancements Deliver High-Value Renewable Energy Resource Data To Inform Decision-Making
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have released an enhanced and expanded version of the Renewable Energy Data Explorer (RE Data Explorer), a publicly available geospatial analysis tool that can inform renewable energy policy, investment, and deployment decisions. With funding from USAID through the USAID-NREL Partnership as well as the Advanced Energy Partnership for Asia, this release includes a redesigned user interface; the addition of high spatial and temporal resolution solar resource data for Southeast Asia; and wind, solar, and complementary data for many countries. Over the coming weeks, renewable energy data sets will be added for the entire world.
“Together with USAID, we are making the improved RE Data Explorer available to users around the world to access the high-quality data and analysis tools that can inform many decisions,” said Sadie Cox, a senior analyst at NREL and the RE Data Explorer’s project lead.
What Can RE Data Explorer Do?
The RE Data Explorer offers all types of energy sector users quick and convenient access to best-in-class renewable energy and complementary data and analysis capabilities for informed renewable energy decision-making. It performs visualization and analysis of renewable energy resource potential that can be customized for different scenarios and allows users to download and dynamically access data sets to utilize in prospecting, integrated planning, policymaking, and other energy development activities.
Additionally, the RE Data Explorer can detail a region’s technical potential, or the estimated capacity of renewable energy technology available after accounting for topographical and land-use constraints. Data from the RE Data Explorer can also be downloaded and used in other analysis tools, such as capacity expansion and production cost models, to inform economic and market potential.
Users around the world echo how valuable access to renewable energy resource data is. Sidney Oduor, an electrical project engineer for the county government of Kisumu, Kenya, has leveraged the tool across multiple key projects, such as developing resource inventory maps for private sector partners undertaking project development, and using the tool to inform Kisumu’s integrated planning policies and energy investment priorities.
“Sharing these examples is the least I could do for having access to reliable open-source resources and data,” Oduor said. “I’m happy to be able to contribute to improvements in user experience and support USAID and NREL’s investment in improving tools like RE Data Explorer.”
A Best-in-Class Solar Data Set for Southeast Asia
A key driver of RE Data Explorer’s updates is the Southeast Asia RE Data Explorer initiative. This multi-year initiative supports the collection, development, and open dissemination of data sets critical to enabling decisions for scaling up renewable energy deployment in Southeast Asia.
“We found that there is an overall lack of access to renewable energy resource data in Southeast Asia. This initiative provides public and private sector stakeholders in the region with high-resolution data they can use to inform policy and investment decisions and will accelerate movement of planning processes towards implementation,” Cox said.
The initiative’s first goal is producing and sharing high spatial (2-kilometer) and temporal (10-minute) resolution solar resource data for multiple years for the entire Southeast Asia region. To develop this data, cloud coverage from Himawari satellite imagery over Asia was processed through NREL’s Fast All-sky Radiation Model for Solar Applications (FARMS) to create solar radiation data. This data was then augmented with other information such as temperature, humidity, surface windspeed, and other parameters.
Dr. Nuki Agya Utama, executive director for the ASEAN Centre for Energy, underscored the need for access to reliable and accurate data sets in the Southeast Asian region.
“This high-fidelity data is very important to make sure capacity can be translated into real potential and can be generated into real power in the region,” Utama said.
Global Expansion and a Reimagined User Interface
RE Data Explorer’s geographic scope will also be expanded from twelve countries and regions to include solar, wind, and other complementary data for the entire world, provided by partners such as the World Bank, the World Resources Institute, and the Technical University of Denmark. Improved solar data for the South Asia region and African continent, collected from the Meteosat satellites and processed at NREL using the Physical Solar Model, will also be made available in the coming weeks.
A map of Southeast Asia with overlaid technical potential data displayed on the new RE Data Explorer application.
RE Data Explorer’s streamlined interface allows for a more organized and intuitive user experience.
Finally, to tie these data improvements together seamlessly and enhance user experience, the RE Data Explorer also received a significant interface redesign. The vision, now realized in the improved RE Data Explorer, was to create a consolidated web application that showcases renewable energy data for countries around the world while providing users with the ability to easily perform customized analyses.
“With a reimagined data viewer, the tool has been completely redesigned to make it more user-friendly and intuitive to support stakeholders around the world in deploying renewable energy,” said Nick Gilroy, one of the geospatial data scientists in NREL’s Geospatial Data Science (GDS) department who helped lead the redesign.
Other elements of the tool were also revised to better work with external tools, such as integrating RE Data Explorer’s technical potential tool with the recently open-sourced reV model for performance improvements. The tool now also supports the PV Watts “Lite” Calculator, allowing users to leverage the analytical capability of PV Watts, a rooftop PV analysis tool, via an API while receiving results in the familiar RE Data Explorer data viewer.
“By directly integrating with NREL-produced models such as reV, as well as utilizing cloud computing services, we have been able to reduce analysis output time from tens of minutes to tens of seconds,” added Haiku Sky, another NREL GDS geospatial data scientist leading the project.
Try Out the State-of-the-Art RE Data Explorer
The RE Data Explorer tool was originally launched over a decade ago with the goal of providing developing countries no-cost renewable energy resource data to level the playing field for renewable energy policymaking, planning, and project development. It is the flagship geospatial tool of the RE Explorer website, a go-to resource for trainings, knowledge products, and resources including an “Ask an Expert” service that provides access to experts who can help identify or evaluate data resources and provide guidance for how to use and apply the RE Data Explorer for energy decisions.
“What is most exciting about the RE Data Explorer and the development of this data set for Southeast Asia is that we are democratizing data for that region and users around the the world. We are significantly expanding data access while also improving the quality of openly-available solar data for Southeast Asia,” Cox said.