Power System Model Results Made Easier | News

NREL Releases Two-Part Guide to Understanding Power System Model Results for Long-Term
Resource Planning

A tour group looks at the control room of the Energy Systems Integration Facility at the NREL South Table Mountain campus.
A tour group looks at energy systems models in the Energy Systems Integration Facility
control room at the NREL South Table Mountain Campus. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

“It can help everybody because it should lead to better decisions in the end.”

That is the goal of a new resource developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
(NREL), according to NREL energy analyst Wesley Cole.

The two-part informational guide, divided into beginner and advanced levels, can help planners and stakeholders understand power system model results
and ask the right questions of utilities in developing integrated resource plans (IRP)—strategic
road maps used by utilities to plan their future energy resources. The two-part guide
is designed for people with varying degrees of knowledge of power system models and
how they fit into the process of planning the grid.

“More people are engaging in the utility planning process than ever before,” Cole
said. “And many of these people are new to planning the grid with resources such as
wind and solar, so helping them get up to speed to be able to engage productively
is very valuable.”

Solar and wind power are two of the fastest-growing sources of electricity capacity
growth in the country. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, wind power generation in the United States increased 56% from 2018 to 2023, and
solar generation grew by 158% in that time. NREL’s 2023 Standard Scenarios mid-case projections show wind deployment could reach 770 gigawatts (GW) and solar
deployment could reach 1,090 GW by 2050—a five- and tenfold increase over their current
levels, respectively.

“That’s a pretty big shift,” Cole said. “Therefore, if the tools that are used to
help with planning the grid haven’t evolved to keep up with that, there will be some

Learning the Basics of Power System Models

Part one, the Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Power System Model Results for Long-Term Resource
is tailored toward people without technical backgrounds in power systems or electricity
modeling. It provides an introduction to modeling as part of the grid planning process,
a synopsis of the different long-term electricity planning models, and methods to
develop questions for utilities based on their IRP modeling.

“There is a lot that goes into long-term power system planning,” Cole said. “It can
be challenging to understand where to start when you look at model results presented
by a utility.”

To ensure groups like utility commissions, state energy offices, community advocates,
and local planners are effectively communicating their input on an IRP, the Beginner’s Guide delves into three focus areas: assumptions in data, key model outputs, and methods.

The hope is that stakeholders with limited knowledge of how to interpret power system
models can use the guide to discern what is important about the results and better
engage with utilities in the planning process.

Taking It a Step Further: An Advanced Guide

Part two, the Advanced Guide to Understanding Power System Model Results for Long-Term Resource
builds on the Beginner’s Guide and dives deeper into three key topics: electricity demand evolution, demand-side
resources, and resource adequacy.

Some models are projecting rapid growth in electricity demand between now and 2050
due to incentives for electrification under the Inflation Reduction Act. The Advanced Guide digs into best practices for resource planning when it comes to estimating future
load and demand and provides links to additional resources for understanding both
load forecasting and demand-side resource modeling. The latter may be more challenging
for resource planners due to the complexities they present in the modeling itself.
Factors such as distributed generation and energy efficiency contribute to the challenge
of long-term planning because of their heterogenous and generally small-scale nature.

“Especially when you are dealing with the variability of wind, solar, and storage
and how all the pieces of the system are going to work together, you have to rely
more on the model tools,” Cole said. “So understanding how they work and whether or
not they are up to the challenge becomes all the more important.”

The guide also explains resource adequacy—the power system’s ability to meet customer
demand, considering planned and unplanned disruptions on the grid. Resource adequacy
has been top of mind for planners and operators, in no small part due to recent major
outages caused by extreme events such as Winter Storms Uri and Elliott. The guide
lays out how stakeholders can define metrics, resource values, and incorporate high-quality
data for future events into their plans.

Read the Beginner’s Guide and Advanced Guide to understanding power system model results for long-term resource planning. Learn
more about NREL’s
energy analysis and grid research.

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