Grid Reliability, Resilience, & Integration (HydroWIRES)

Project Name: North American Renewable Integration Study                                  

Project Team: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, and Natural Resources Canada 

Lead Recipient Location: Golden, Colorado

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A multiyear study of the North American power grid found that increasing electricity trade and expanding transmission could have significant benefits, highlighting opportunities for a coordinated, low-carbon continental grid. The study also shows that a future low-carbon grid can be achieved through multiple pathways that can balance supply and demand using a variety of flexible resources. The North American Renewable Integration Study (NARIS), the largest study of its kind from a geographical perspective, focused on the potential role of cooperation among North American countries and how transmission can support sharing of supply and demand diversity across the continent.

By analyzing the entire continent in detail while studying higher renewable energy generation than previous studies, researchers learned that:

  • Multiple pathways can lead to 80% power-sector carbon reduction continent-wide by 2050.
  • The future low-carbon system can balance supply and demand in a wide range of future conditions, with all technologies contributing to resource adequacy.
  • Interregional and international cooperation can provide significant net system benefits through 2050.
  • Operational flexibility comes from transmission, electricity storage, and flexible operation of all generator types, including hydropower, wind energy, solar power, and thermal generation.

The NARIS hydropower research compared similar scenarios with and without the ability to adjust power output from U.S. and Canadian hydropower generators, showing that annual system costs are $2.3 billion (or 3%) higher without this flexibility. These results help improve the water power industry's understanding of the value of hydropower and pumped storage hydropower in an evolving North American grid.

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Data visualization developed by NREL to study grid operations across North America under scenarios developed for NREL’s North American Renewable Integration Study (NARIS).
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Leveraging National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) high-performance computing capabilities, NREL researchers used a suite of models to understand the impacts of renewable technology cost trajectories, emission constraints, and demand growth on key outcomes.

NARIS builds on decades of previous work studying power systems with high levels of renewable generation, including the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study, Interconnections Seam Study, and Pan Canadian Wind Integration Study.

Grid Reliability, Resilience, & Integration (HydroWIRES) Projects