The first phase of constructing renewable generation – proof of concept at the 1% scale – has been accomplished. The next phase will be a scale-up by more than an order of magnitude to meet renewable portfolio standards in the 2020 time frame. It is this second phase that will be the focus of and be influenced by the RenewElec project.
The RenewElect project will make four contributions to policy. The first will be the development of a comprehensive and integrated research agenda, informed by a broad systems perspective, and applicable to both federal agencies and to industry, including the Electric Power Research Institute18 (EPRI). Our plan is to publish a high-level version of this in an outlet such as the policy forum section of Science or as an article in Issues in Science and Technology.
The second will be a clearer definition of the regulatory and institutional barriers that impede adoption of some of the mechanisms that can overcome the problems presented by variability and intermittency of renewable generators, along with recommendations for how they might best be overcome. These will likely range from high level concerns, such as how to overcome limits imposed by the way in which the power system in different parts of the U.S. currently perform systematic expansion planning to much more focused issues. Two examples of the latter are the barriers that now exist to wide-spread adoption of systems for combined heat and power, ice and other phase change material storage, and issues that would arise in relaxing current tight operating standards for frequency and voltage control.
The third will be advice to utilities, regulators, NGOs and others about the strengths and weaknesses of evolving the power system toward several different future architectures ranging from the highly centralized "transmission superhighway" proposed by some, to a much more distributed and decentralized architecture proposed by others.
The fourth will be advice on how to maximize the regional economic development implications of developing renewable energy systems, while avoiding possible "crashes" resulting from unrealistic performance expectations or inadequate planning and preparation.