Impacts of High Variable Renewable Energy Futures on Wholesale Electricity Prices, and on Electric-Sector Decision Making

May 23, 2018

Increasing penetrations of variable renewable energy (VRE) can affect wholesale electricity price patterns and make them meaningfully different from past, traditional price patterns. Many long-lasting decisions for supply- and demand-side electricity infrastructure and programs are based on historical observations or assume a business-as-usual future with low shares of VRE. 

Our motivating question is whether certain electric-sector decisions that are made based on assumptions reflecting low VRE levels will still achieve their intended objective in a high VRE future. We qualitatively describe how various decisions may change with higher shares of VRE and outline an analytical framework for quantitatively evaluating the impacts of VRE on long-lasting decisions. 

We then present results from detailed electricity market simulations with capacity expansion and unit commitment models for multiple regions of the U.S. for low and high VRE futures. We find a general decrease in average annual hourly wholesale energy prices with more VRE penetration, increased price volatility and frequency of very low-priced hours, and changing diurnal price patterns. Ancillary service prices rise substantially and peak net-load hours with high capacity value are shifted increasingly into the evening, particularly for high solar futures. 

While we only highlight qualitatively the possible impact of these altered price patterns on other demand- and supply-side electric sector decisions in this publication, the core set of electricity market prices derived here provides a foundation for later planned quantitative evaluations of these decisions in low and high VRE futures.

The technical report, which is accompanied by a slide deck along with the underlying raw modeling results, can be downloaded here.