Large Scale Renewable Energy Integration: Identification of Optimal Implementation PlansA significant potential for addressing climate change and fuel security is the transition to renewable energy from traditional fossil fuel-based power. However, the inherent technical limitations associated with renewable energy power generation will make this transition costly, especially if the necessary infrastructure upgrades occur in a piecemeal fashion that is subject to regional variances in environmental regulation and individual utility and transmission operator appetite and capability for renewable energy transmission and generation. Projections of increased electric power demand in the United States necessitate the need for new generation sources, and renewable energy simultaneously offers security of reduced reliance on fossil fuels and the complication of integrating variable energy production. Renewable energy generation could be maximized if placed in higher resource areas, such as solar power being placed in the desert Southwest, but the higher relative capital costs of renewable energy sources and the need to address transfer of renewable energy-based electricity across multiple jurisdictions to reach demand centers could limit the buildout. This paper describes an optimization model for determining the least cost approach to large-scale renewable energy development in the United States, considering several energy policy options and focused on renewable energy integration. Model outputs showed that there are scenarios under which the Southwest could supply reliable electric power to the United States. While the model was not intended to identify specific infrastructure projects, it yielded useful results based on the trends of predictions across the scenarios. Of note is that reduced transmission construction times and costs could enable supply of electric power from the Western United States to load centers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, but that the magnitude of the expansion likely would extend construction activities beyond 2040. In the meantime, capital cost reductions for solar power and growing trends towards distributed generation may obviate the need for such a buildout. In any case, without significant storage capability, wind and solar power might have difficultly achieving expanded market penetration because the expanded baseload capacity additions would be necessary to balance the variable resource. Expansion of the developed model would allow further exploration of specific infrastructure needs to make remote and/or local renewable generation more cost effective.
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