High-resolution large-scale onshore wind energy assessments: A review of potential definitions, methodologies and future research needs

Russell McKenna*, Stefan Pfenninger, Heidi Heinrichs, Johannes Schmidt, Iain Staffell, Christian Bauer, Katharina Gruber, Andrea N. Hahmann, Malte Jansen, Michael Klingler, Natascha Landwehr, Xiaoli Guo Larsén, Johan Lilliestam, Bryn Pickering, Martin Robinius, Tim Tröndle, Olga Turkovska, Sebastian Wehrle, Jann Michael Weinand, Jan Wohland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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The rapid uptake of renewable energy technologies in recent decades has increased the demand of energy researchers, policymakers and energy planners for reliable data on the spatial distribution of their costs and potentials. For onshore wind energy this has resulted in an active research field devoted to analysing these resources for regions, countries or globally. A particular thread of this research attempts to go beyond purely technical or spatial restrictions and determine the realistic, feasible or actual potential for wind energy. Motivated by these developments, this paper reviews methods and assumptions for analysing geographical, technical, economic and, finally, feasible onshore wind potentials. We address each of these potentials in turn, including aspects related to land eligibility criteria, energy meteorology, and technical developments of wind turbine characteristics such as power density, specific rotor power and spacing aspects. Economic aspects of potential assessments are central to future deployment and are discussed on a turbine and system level covering levelized costs depending on locations, and the system integration costs which are often overlooked in such analyses. Non-technical approaches include scenicness assessments of the landscape, constraints due to regulation or public opposition, expert and stakeholder workshops, willingness to pay/accept elicitations and socioeconomic cost-benefit studies. For each of these different potential estimations, the state of the art is critically discussed, with an attempt to derive best practice recommendations and highlight avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-684
Number of pages26
JournalRenewable Energy
Early online date9 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
KG, MK, JS, OT and SW gratefully acknowledge support from the European Research Council (’‘reFUEL’’ ERC-2017-STG 758149). JL has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 715132). MJ and IS were funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [ EP/R045518/1 ] through the IDLES programme. JW is funded through an ETH Postdoctoral Fellowship and acknowledges support from the ETH foundation and the Uniscientia foundation. The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of three anonymous reviewers on an earlier version of this paper.


  • Onshore wind
  • Planning constraints
  • Research priorities
  • Resource assessments
  • Social acceptance


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