Non-dispatchable Renewable Integration

Project ID: 7946
Principal Investigator: Jim DeHaan
Research Topic: Improved Power Generation
Priority Area Assignments: 2015 (Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2015
Keywords: None

Research Question

How will Reclamation, along with the rest of the hydropower industry, adapt to support the successful integration of non-dispatchable renewable energy such as wind and solar energy?

Need and Benefit

The electric power industry in the United States is in the midst of some profound changes that will change the way it produces, transmits, and controls electric energy. High energy prices, national security, supply uncertainties, and environmental concerns are driving public policies and utilities to develop renewable energy sources. As a result, the US wind energy industry is growing rapidly. Various scenarios have been proposed and studied regarding the new electrical generation profile. Recently the Department of Energy (DOE) released a comprehensive and detailed report documenting one of these studies entitled "20% Wind Energy by 2030." Solar energy is also expected to make significant inroads in the near future.

For example, to achieve the goal of producing 20% of the United States electric energy from wind will require about 1.16 billion MWh of wind energy. This will require more than 300-GW of wind generation to be built, which is equivalent to 150,000 2-MW wind turbines. A majority of potential wind resources are located in the 17 west western states, the same region that Reclamation serves. Wind generation in this region could be significantly higher than 20%. The DOE study indicates that this level of penetration is reasonable but will come with challenges. One of the main challenges is that wind is primarily an energy resource, not a capacity resource. Capacity resources are generators that are available on demand to ensure generation meets system load to support the reliability of the power system, ensuring that "the lights stay on." Wind is an energy source, but because of its variability, it contributes little to capacity. Thus incorporating wind energy will require a new way of managing and scheduling the power system that contains a large energy resource that contributes little to capacity. Power system reserves which contribute to capacity will become more important in the future power system.

The limiting value of non-dispatchable renewable energy such as wind and solar is that the available energy varies and is somewhat unpredictable. Wind and solar cannot be scheduled on the days and times that energy is needed to meet load demand. Further, wind and solar energy output changes minute-to-minute. Given this scenario, flexible and dis-patchable generators, such as hydro, will grow in importance to the power system to provide system capacity, balancing energy, and to match load. In fact, as more wind and solar energy is added to the power system, additional reserves will be required. Hydroelectric generation is uniquely positioned to facilitate the integration of non-dispatchable energy sources. Hydro is the only renewable source of electricity presently available that can support other renewable energy sources by providing the capacity and reserve needs of the power system. Hydropower is the preferred method to provide system reserves and unlike gas turbines, another source of reserves, it has zero emissions and zero fuel cost. In fact, hydro resources can have a larger impact on reducing CO2 emissions than wind and solar resources. Hydro energy CO2 reduction benefit is the same as wind and solar energy but hydro also contributes to system reserves which further reduce CO2 emissions.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

The results of this research program will be shared with our stakeholders (regional & facility managers & engineers) in the form of technical reports.


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Last Updated: 4/4/17