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Would firm generators facilitate or deter variable renewable energy in a carbon-free electricity system?

Yuan, Mengyao and Tong, Fan and Duan, Lei and Dowling, Jacqueline A. and Davis, Steven J. and Lewis, Nathan S. and Caldeira, Ken (2020) Would firm generators facilitate or deter variable renewable energy in a carbon-free electricity system? Applied Energy, 279 . Art. No. 115789. ISSN 0306-2619.

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To reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate impacts of climate change, countries across the world have mandated quotas for renewable electricity. But a question has remained largely unexplored: would low-cost, firm, zero-carbon electricity generation technologies enhance—or would they displace—deployment of variable renewable electricity generation technologies, i.e., wind and solar photovoltaics, in a least-cost, fully reliable, and deeply decarbonized electricity system? To address this question, we modeled idealized electricity systems based on historical weather data and considered only technoeconomic factors. We did not apply a predetermined use model. We found that cost reductions in firm generation technologies (starting at current costs, ramping down to nearly zero) uniformly resulted in increased penetration of the firm technologies and decreased penetration of variable renewable electricity generation, in electricity systems where technology deployment is primarily driven by relative costs, and across a wide array of future technology cost assumptions. Similarly, reduced costs of variable renewable electricity (starting at current costs, ramping down to nearly zero) drove out firm generation technologies. Yet relative to deployment of “must-run” firm generation technologies, and when the studied firm technologies have high fixed costs relative to variable costs, the addition of flexibility to firm generation technologies had only limited impacts on the system cost, less than a 9% system cost reduction in our idealized model. These results reveal that policies and funding that support particular technologies for low- or zero-carbon electricity generation can inhibit the development of other low- or zero-carbon alternatives.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Yuan, Mengyao0000-0002-5923-4085
Tong, Fan0000-0003-4661-3956
Dowling, Jacqueline A.0000-0001-5642-8960
Davis, Steven J.0000-0002-9338-0844
Lewis, Nathan S.0000-0001-5245-0538
Caldeira, Ken0000-0002-4591-643X
Additional Information:© 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license ( Received 12 June 2020; Received in revised form 23 August 2020; Accepted 25 August 2020. The authors would like to thank Mehdi Shahriari for early contributions to the model code, David J. Farnham for providing helpful insights, and Leslie Willoughby for editing the manuscript. We acknowledge support from a gift from Gates Ventures LLC, United States to the Carnegie Institution for Science. CRediT authorship contribution statement: Mengyao Yuan: Formal analysis, Methodology, Writing - original draft, Writing - review & editing. Fan Tong: Methodology, Writing - review & editing. Lei Duan: Methodology, Writing - review & editing. Jacqueline A. Dowling: Writing - review & editing. Steven J. Davis: Writing - review & editing. Nathan S. Lewis: Conceptualization, Writing - review & editing. Ken Caldeira: Conceptualization, Methodology, Funding acquisition, Supervision, Writing - review & editing. The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Subject Keywords:Net-zero electricity systems; Firm carbon-free electricity generation; Variable renewable energy
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20201217-103829489
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Official Citation:Mengyao Yuan, Fan Tong, Lei Duan, Jacqueline A. Dowling, Steven J. Davis, Nathan S. Lewis, Ken Caldeira, Would firm generators facilitate or deter variable renewable energy in a carbon-free electricity system?, Applied Energy, Volume 279, 2020, 115789, ISSN 0306-2619,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:107151
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:17 Dec 2020 19:06
Last Modified:17 Dec 2020 19:06

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