Exploring critical roadblocks to decarbonization: distributed energy resources and the grid

Climate; Systems and Integrative Engineering; Power and Energy; Energy Systems; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Public Policy

We will explore some of the key impediments to the low-carbon energy transition. A key area of focus must be on planning for grid infrastructure to support distributed and intermittent energy sources.

Research Interests
  • Environmental Economics
  • Public Finance
  • renewable energy
  • electricity grid architecture
  • Models for energy infrastructure planning

Virginia and other states have set goals for decarbonizing their electricity generation by 2050. But enunciating such a goal leaves much important detail to be worked out. Even at this early stage in our decarbonization efforts, we are beginning to experience frictions in the development and utilization of distributed energy resources. Grid planning, smart grid rollout, and matching future grid infrastructure to our need to expand distributed energy resources are essential to meeting our demanding decarbonization goals. Topic areas include engineering, financing and pricing of networks, facilitating interconnections of distributed resources and state-level institutional capacity. Goals include reducing costs while increasing reliability and resilience of carbon-free electricity. We have identified opportunities for partnering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to cooperate on regional modeling for modern grid infrastructure (including non-wires alternatives).

This project is at the intersection of mechanism design (economics), complex systems (engineering) and public policy. The analysis must take into account the behavior of individual decision makers as they interact with the distribution and transmission networks. We will investigate how the incentives for interacting with the network affects the future cost and availability of network services. How does grid capacity get determined? Does distributed deployment of generation result in cost-effective grid services? Can planning algorithms do better than distributed deployment in determining the structure and location of grid services? How can financial instruments help guide grid deployment? 

Desired outcomes

  • Develop detailed planning model for analyzing infrastructure needs to support dramatically increased levels of distributed energy resources including wind, solar, geothermal and storage
  • Studies of institutional arrangements for grid infrastructure planning and coordination across states
  • Build research relationships with NREL, PJM (our regional transmission organization), state agencies and others for sharing data and assisting with infrastructure design and capacity planning
  • Build long-term, externally funded research program in the data analytics, economics, engineering, finance and institutional capacity for facilitating the coming energy transition.
  • Detailed modeling tools for policy makers in Virginia and other states in our region. Improvements in the available suite of tools available for effective policy planning for grid services.