NREL Looks at Future of Utilities

Wind power.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently released its “2019 Standard Scenario Report: A U.S. Electricity Sector Outlook.” The Report is published annually to inform energy system stakeholders about the factors that will steer the future direction of the industry. Topics include technology, market changes and policy.

The NREL noted that “The annual Standard Scenarios, which are now in their fifth year, have been designed to capture a range of possible power system futures, considering a variety of factors that impact power sector evolution.”

In sum, NREL predicts that, in the future, solar, wind and battery technologies will begin to replace natural gas and coal as utilities’ backbone power source. This, of course, is good news for electrical contractors that are involved in the installation and maintenance of these renewable energy technologies.

In specific, the report covers three overarching issues:

1 – The modeled revenue received by technologies through delivering grid services changes over time and across scenarios as the grid mix evolves. This section covers four primary grid services: energy, planning reserves, operating reserves and state policy compliance.

2 – Even at high variable renewable energy (VRE) penetrations, resource adequacy requirements are largely supplied by non-variable technologies. The report predicts that utility-scale battery storage will continue to grow and experience cost declines, eventually edging out natural gas combustion turbines as the most common type of peaking plant in the future. In other words, battery storage technology will gradually replace natural gas as the technology of choice for utilities in meeting their peaking plant needs.

3 – Regional generation mixes continue to change, driven predominantly by technology costs, state policies and resource quality. The report noted that, “The national grid mix has evolved considerably over the past decade, and nearly every state has also experienced considerable change. States have generally moved away from coal toward either natural gas, wind, or solar technologies—a trend that continues in these scenarios.” It added that, “Curtailment of VRE resources varies across the country, but is especially high in areas with high concentrations of both wind and solar. Transmission and storage additions help mitigate curtailment in some areas.”

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