Impacts of High Variable Renewable Energy Futures on Electric-Sector Decision Making: Demand-Side Effects

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Previous work by the Berkeley Lab describes how high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE) such as wind and solar power could change wholesale electricity price dynamics. These include the timing of when electricity is cheap or expensive, locational differences in the cost of electricity, and the degree of regularity or predictability in those costs. Many decentralized decision-makers on the demand-side may not yet have considered the implications of these possible future changes.

In this report, we evaluate the sensitivity of a set of demand-side decisions to different levels of VRE penetration ranging from a low of 5-20% to a high of 40-50%. The analysis builds on hourly wholesale energy and capacity prices in different VRE scenarios for four wholesale markets in the United States for the year 2030 (CAISO, ERCOT, NYISO, and SPP). The principal question for this exploration is whether private and public electric-sector decisions that are made based on assumptions reflecting low VRE levels still achieve their intended objective in a high VRE scenario with 40-50% wind and solar?

This scoping report evaluates the impacts of changing patterns of peak system needs on the benefits of demand reductions by examining the altered value of different energy efficiency (EE) measures. Similarly, we investigate new opportunities for large energy consumers that may arise from periods with very low wholesale electricity prices. We calculate the value of new process investments (e.g., hydrogen production and other generalized electro-commodities), showcase the varying value of new product storage investments (such as reservoir extensions at a desalination plant), and estimate the benefits of increased process flexibility that uses electricity as a process-input in addition to traditional fossil fuels (e.g., district energy systems). Finally, many decentralized decision-makers and end-use customers are not directly exposed to wholesale electricity prices but instead receive price signals from their retail electricity rates. As wind and solar shares increase, we compare the economic efficiency of flat retail rates relative to more dynamic time-of-use tariffs with and without critical peak-pricing events.


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