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Electrification Futures Study Concludes Flexible Loads and Renewables Work Well Together

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Staff Writer, Energy Central, BrightGreen PR

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  • Jun 4, 2021

The newly-released National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL’s) Electrification Futures Study (EFS), Operational Analysis of U.S. Power Systems with Increased Electrification and Demand-Side Flexibility has looked into the implications of widespread electrification, demand-side flexibility and increased use of renewable energy. The EFS was launched in 2017 to explore the potential impacts of widespread electrification in all U.S. economic sectors—commercial and residential buildings, transportation, and industry.

Demand-side flexibility—mainly from optimized vehicle charging and flexible operations of end-use equipment in buildings and industry—will be important for operating a power system with high electrification and high renewable energy deployment.

Demand flexibility offers high value in supporting a highly electrified, renewables-based U.S. power system, according to this report. “Overall, our results show that demand-side flexibility is valuable in supporting variable renewable energy to meet new electrified demands. These flexible loads are primarily from optimized vehicle charging and flexible operations of end-use equipment in buildings and industry,” said Ella Zhou, NREL analyst and lead author of the paper. “In turn, this combination of high electrification and high renewable energy can drive significant carbon emissions reductions.”

Simulations show the future power systems envisioned in the EFS can serve nearly 100% of the load and 100% of the operating reserves with no demand-side flexibility, including on the days with the highest net load. Without demand-side flexibility, energy storage is critical in all scenarios to balance load and provide operating reserves. Expanded power transfer capability across regions is also needed to meet increased electrified demand.

“Our results show the importance of all sources of grid flexibility—including transmission and inter-regional power transfers, flexible generation, storage, and demand-side sources of flexibility—will likely be important for operating a power system with high electrification and high renewable energy deployment,” said Trieu Mai, NREL analyst and EFS principal investigator.

The conclusions of the report are that the interaction between demand flexibility, load management and increasing renewables could be a beneficial one for both utilities and consumers. It curtails the number of low-load hours for fossil fuel generators and reduces the number of starts and shutdowns of natural gas generators—resulting in up to $10 billion in annual operating cost savings in scenarios with the greatest demand-side flexibility. There are also significant reductions in carbon emissions from these measures too.


Learn More in a June 17 Webinar


Join a webinar from 10 to 11 am. MT on Thursday, June 17, to dive deeper into the EFS results with Zhou and Mai and learn how the U.S. power system can serve newly electrified and flexible loads. They will also discuss research needs extending beyond the EFS. Register to attend.


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