A new analysis by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) for the Western Governors' Association examines how decisions regarding which renewable sources are chosen, and how transmission lines are expanded, are affected by changes in policies and other uncertainties.
The scientists developed a spreadsheet-based tool with private-sector firm Black & Veatch to compare the economics of renewable resource areas for different areas in the Western U.S. states, and how different policies and uncertainties may affect resource selection and transmission expansion.
The analysis was conducted as part of the Western Renewable Energy Zones (WREZ) initiative, which was jointly managed by the WGA and the DOE. WREZ brought together policy-makers, energy and transmission developers, utility managers, and environmental organizations in an effort to determine the best ways to meet the Western states' growing need for electricity from renewable sources of power. The tool developed by Berkeley Lab and its partners is called the WREZ model.
The analysis identifies the potential renewable resource mix and electricity transmission capacity that would be required to provide a hypothetical 33% of the Western states' annual electricity from areas identified as being suitable for large-scale renewable energy development by the year 2029.Â
The analysis does not suggest specific projects; instead, it was designed to determine which sources of renewable power generation would make the most economic sense, given assumptions regarding technology costs and power demand.
Wind energy was found to provide the largest share of the energy required to meet the 33% renewable energy target with resources from WREZ resource areas. Different cases, however, could shift the balance of wind and solar power, according to the report.Â
Across all of the analyses included in the report, transmission costs made up 10% to 19% of the total cost to build new renewable resources and deliver renewable power to load centers throughout the Western U.S.Â
In aggregate, the estimated investment in new transmission needed to meet the hypothetical 33% renewable energy target from WREZ resource areas was $17 billion to $34 billion.Â