Wind and solar electricity are increasingly attractive as their costs decline and greater value is given to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. However, these technologies generate power only when the wind and sun are available, so it is unclear how large a role they should play in the future power system.
To address this question, I developed a new model that identifies the least expensive set of investments in wind, solar and conventional generators and transmission lines to provide a reliable power supply for California in 2014–25, while accounting for the value of avoiding carbon dioxide emissions. The Switch model (a loose acronym for Solar, Wind, Hydro, and Conventional generators and Transmission) simultaneously optimizes long-term investments in generators and transmission capacity and hourly plans for how to operate this equipment. Weather conditions during each simulated hour are based on historical conditions, so that the optimization incorporates any correlation between wind, sunshine and loads.
This model shows how the optimal design of the power system changes depending on one’s assumptions about the value of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the direct costs of generators and fuels. Conversely, it can also show the minimum cost of achieving any level of emission reductions.
I use the Switch model to develop a “supply curve” for emission reductions from the electric power system, which could help policymakers allocate emission reductions efficiently among all sectors of the economy. I also investigate the economic factors that are likely to limit the use of renewable power. I find that there is no sharp limit to the use of these technologies, even when providing half or more of the system’s power. However, the cost of power could rise gradually as these technologies are used on a larger scale: in part because they will need increasing proportions of backup power from other sources, but more importantly, because they will eventually begin to generate unneeded power during some hours. I conclude with a quick look at the potentially strong synergies between a highly renewable power system and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, which could make effective use of otherwise-surplus power.
|Adviser||Daniel M. Kammen|
|School||UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY|
|Subjects||Alternative energy; Geography; Economics; Electrical engineering; Energy|
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