The Western Renewable Energy Zone (WREZ) initiative brings together a diverse set of voices to develop data, tools, and a unique forum for coordinating transmission expansion in the Western Interconnection. In this paper we use a new tool developed in the WREZ initiative to evaluate possible renewable resource selection and transmission expansion decisions. We evaluate these decisions under a number of alternative future scenarios centered on meeting 33% of the annual load in the Western Interconnection with new renewable resources located within WREZ-identified resource hubs. Our analysis finds that wind energy is the largest source of renewable energy procured to meet the 33% RE target across nearly all scenarios analyzed (38–65%). Solar energy is almost always the second largest source (14–41%). We find several load zones where wind energy is the least cost resource under a wide range of sensitivity scenarios. Load zones in the Southwest, on the other hand, are found to switch between wind and solar, and therefore to vary transmission expansion decisions, depending on uncertainties and policies that affect the relative economics of each renewable option. Further, we find that even with total transmission expenditures of $17–34 billion these costs still represent just 10–19% of the total delivered cost of renewable energy.
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This article is based on research from an LBNL report entitled Exploration of Resource and Transmission Expansion Decisions in the Western Renewable Energy Zone Initiative. To see the full report, click here.