Managing Solar Photovoltaic Integration in the Western United States: Resource Adequacy Considerations

Gordon Stephen, Elaine Hale, Brady Cowiestoll

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This study examines the impact of reserve margin-based reliability assessment, as commonly used in capacity expansion models, on planning resource-adequate power systems under high penetrations of solar photovoltaics (PV). As a generation resource, PV is operationally different from the conventional dispatchable resources for which most capacity expansion models were designed. The question this study attempts to answer is whether large amounts of PV on a system (in this case, the Western Interconnection of North America) would bias the results of conventional reserve margin-based capacity expansion modeling towards an over- or under-provisioning of resource adequacy. This analysis used NREL’s Resource Planning Model (RPM) for capacity expansion modeling and NREL’s Probabilistic Resource Adequacy Suite (PRAS) for resource adequacy assessment. RPM uses a reserve margin requirement to enforce resource adequacy. PRAS, a collection of tools for studying the resource adequacy of power systems and the adequacy contributions of individual resources on a probabilistic basis, was used to compute multiple resource adequacy metrics across a number of simulated scenarios and system representations with differing regional detail. In all cases, including high PV penetrations (up to 33% annual generation from PV, interconnection-wide), RPM was able to produce resource-adequate systems as measured by normalized expected unserved energy and loss-of-load expectation results from PRAS. The accuracy of reserve margin approaches depends heavily on the underlying assumptions informing the capacity credit assigned to variable and energy-limited resources, particularly when such resources are abundant in the modeled system. RPM’s standard methodology for estimating variable and flexible resources’ capacity contributions, which is based on the top 100 hours of net load, did not appear to systematically undervalue or overvalue variable generation relative to a more rigorous equivalent firm capacity assessment using PRAS, although both over- and undervaluations were observed in specific scenarios. In the worst cases, the top 100 hour method underestimated the equivalent firm capacity of PV by two percentage points, and overestimated the equivalent firm capacity of PV by five percentage points. Calculating capacity contributions based on the top 10 hours of net load systematically underestimated equivalent firm capacities at more modest PV penetrations, but was often a better approximation of equivalent firm capacity than the existing 100-hour approach in scenarios with higher PV penetrations.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages36
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-72472


  • capacity expansion modeling
  • penetrations
  • planning
  • reliability assessment
  • reserve margins
  • resource adequacy
  • solar PV
  • Western United States


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