Technology Pathways Could Help Drive the U.S. West Coast Grid’s Exposure to Hydrometeorological Uncertainty

Jacob Wessel, Jordan D. Kern, Nathalie Voisin, Konstantinos Oikonomou, Jannik Haas

Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Program Acknowledged Support: Yes, MultiSector Dynamics Program



Previous studies investigating deep decarbonization of bulk electric power systems and wholesale electricity markets have not sufficiently explored how future grid pathways could affect the grid’s vulnerability to hydrometeorological uncertainty on multiple timescales. Here, we employ a grid operations model and a large synthetic weather ensemble to “stress test” a range of future grid pathways for the U.S. West Coast developed by ReEDS, a well-known capacity planning model. Our results show that gradual changes in the underlying capacity mix from 2020 to 2050 can cause significant “re-ranking” of weather years in terms of annual wholesale electricity prices (with “good” years becoming bad, and vice versa). Nonetheless, we find the highest and lowest ranking price years in terms of average electricity price remain mostly tied to extremes in hydropower availability (streamflow) and load (summer temperatures), with the strongest sensitivities related to drought. Seasonal dynamics seen today involving spring snowmelt and hot, dry summers remain well-defined out to 2050. In California, future supply shortfalls in our model are concentrated in the evening and occur mostly during periods of high temperature anomalies in late summer months and in late winter; in the Pacific Northwest, supply shortfalls are much more strongly tied to negative streamflow anomalies. Under our more robust sampling of stationary hydrometeorological uncertainty, we also find that the ratio of dispatchable thermal (i.e., natural gas) capacity to wind and solar required to ensure grid reliability can differ significantly from values reported by ReEDS.

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