WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2016 - Using high-performance computing capabilities, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) produced a study that shows how the power grid of the Eastern U.S. could accommodate higher levels of wind and solar photovoltaic generation, with much less reliance on energy generated from coal.

However, the researchers say whether this reality is technically feasible depends on other transmission and generation operators providing the necessary ramping, energy and capacity services, wholesale market design changes, and various capital expenditures – all of which, the researchers say, will have financial and other implications that were outside of the study.

The study noted that “flows of power across the Eastern Interconnection change more rapidly and more frequently, so meeting 30 percent targets under the study assumptions sometimes requires coordinating operations from Montreal to Miami and as far west as New Mexico.”

The researchers also noted that regulatory changes, market design innovation and flexible operating procedures are important to achieving higher levels of wind and solar.

“By modeling the power system in depth and detail, NREL has helped reset the conversation about how far we can go operationally with wind and solar in one of the largest power systems in the world,” says Charlton Clark, program manager for the study.

NREL produced a high-resolution model of the entire Eastern Interconnection, and modeled more than 5,600 electricity generators and more than 60,000 transmission lines in a power system that spans from Florida to Maine, including parts of Canada, and goes as far west as New Mexico.

To analyze how the Eastern Interconnection might function in 2026, when the power system could have significantly less power generation from fossil fuels, NREL’s Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study (ERGIS) considered four hypothetical scenarios. The scenarios vary according to the amount of new transmission lines and how wind, solar and natural gas are used to replace the fossil fuel generators.

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NREL released the production cost model, underlying data and visualization tools alongside the final report to give power system planners, operators, regulators and other stakeholders the tools to anticipate and plan for operational and other important changes that may be needed in “cleaner energy futures.”

“Our work provides power system operators and regulators insights into how the Eastern Interconnection might operate in future scenarios with more wind and solar energy,” says Aaron Bloom, NREL project leader for the ERGIS study. “More importantly, we are sharing our data and tools so that others can conduct their own analysis.”

To view the full ERGIS report and accompanying tools, click here.  


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