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Berkeley Lab Releases New Analysis of the Potential Renewable Energy Supply and Transmission Needed to Meet Aggressive Western Renewable Energy Targets

Feb 24, 2010 - Berkeley Lab

Dear Colleague:

We are pleased to announce that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory today released a new report: “Exploration of Resource and Transmission Expansion Decisions in the Western Renewable Energy Zone Initiative.” This report examines, at a screening-level, the sensitivity of renewable resource selection, transmission expansion, and renewable supply costs in meeting aggressive Western renewable energy targets to different assumptions and policy decisions.  The report evaluates these decisions under a number of alternative future scenarios centered on meeting 33% of the electrical load of Western states with new renewable resources located within resource hubs identified in the Western Renewable Energy Zone (WREZ) Initiative.

The primary goal of the analysis was to identify the important assumptions and factors that should be evaluated in more detailed resource and transmission planning forums.  The report demonstrates how the economic screening tools developed in the WREZ Initiative can be used to inform questions regarding which WREZ resources might be procured by Western loads, what transmission expansion would be required, and which factors contribute to the costs of meeting aggressive renewable energy targets.

Some of the key findings from the analysis, all of which are detailed in the study, include:

  • Increasing renewable energy demands increase costs, as less economically attractive resources are required to meet higher targets
  • Wind energy is found to be the largest contributor to meeting WECC-wide renewable energy demands when only resources from the WREZ resource hubs are considered
  • Hydropower, biomass, and geothermal contributions do not change significantly with increasing renewable demand or changes to key assumptions
  • Key uncertainties can shift the balance between wind and solar in the renewable resource portfolio
  • The costs of meeting renewable energy targets within the West are heterogeneous without Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)
  • Transmission investment costs are substantial at $17-34 billion, but represent only 10-19% of the total renewable supply cost required to meet a 33% target
  • Long transmission lines can be economically justified in particular cases, but the majority of transmission lines are found to be relatively short
  • Transmission expansion needs and overall costs can be reduced through the use of RECs, equating to an average savings of as much as $6/MWh of renewable generation
The report can be downloaded from:

A PowerPoint presentation that summarizes key findings can be found at:

The press release from the Western Governors’ Association is included below.

Finally, we appreciate the funding support of the U.S. DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and apologize in advance for any cross-postings.

All the best,

Ryan Wiser, Andrew Mills, and Amol Phadke
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Berkeley Lab Releases New Analysis of the Potential Renewable Energy Supply and Transmission Needed to Provide a Hypothetical 33% of the West’s Electricity Needs

February 23, 2010

Rich Halvey, Western Governors’ Association - (303) 623-9378
Ryan Wiser, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - (510) 486-5474

DENVER -- An analysis of the potential renewable resources and transmission that would be required to provide a hypothetical 33 percent of the West’s annual electricity from areas identified as being suitable for large-scale renewable energy development was released today by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Berkeley Lab and Black & Veatch developed a new analytical tool to compare the economics of renewable resource areas for different load areas in the Western Interconnection and how different policies and uncertainties may affect resource selection and transmission expansion.  The Lab’s findings build upon the stakeholder-based Western Renewable Energy Zones (WREZ) initiative, which was jointly managed by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“We need better analytical tools like the WREZ model to enable private and public sector decision-makers to develop timely policies and make investment decisions that will prepare the region for a clean energy future,” said WGA’s Chairman, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (Mont.).

The new report demonstrates how a screening tool can be used to identify important factors that need to be considered in more detailed transmission modeling studies.

“As a screening tool, we are not able to identify specific transmission lines or renewable projects that should be developed to meet a 33 percent renewable energy target, but we are able to identify important questions that need to be considered in more detailed models,” said Berkeley Lab’s Andrew Mills, one of the report’s authors.

As examples, the study found that least-cost transmission investment decisions were very sensitive to the availability of high-voltage direct current lines, and that free trade in renewable energy credits, on a West-wide basis, might reduce the average cost of renewable energy supply by as much as 0.6 cents/kWh.

Across all of the analyses included in the report, transmission costs made up 10-19 percent of the total cost to build new renewable resources and deliver renewable power to load centers throughout the West.  In aggregate, the estimated investment in new transmission needed to meet the hypothetical 33 percent renewable energy target from WREZ resource areas was $17 to $34 billion.  Wind and solar resources were found to represent the bulk of the estimated new renewable additions, with the mix between wind and solar greatly affected by policy and economic assumptions.


About WGA and Berkeley Lab:

The Western Governors’ Association is an independent, nonpartisan organization of governors representing 19 states and three U.S.-flag Pacific islands.  The governors identify and address diverse policy and governance issues important to the region.  Additional information is available on the Web at

Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California.  It conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE’s Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at

Updated: 2016/06/30

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