Potential Availability of and Supply Curves for Low-Cost, Dispatch-Constrained Electricity

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Among other changes, variable renewable energy (VRE) - primarily wind and solar photovoltaics - is achieving a growing share of total generation. High VRE penetrations may result in an increased level of curtailment and thus suppress the value of additional VRE. This VRE, that either would not be built due to price suppression or would be curtailed, can be considered a resource that we define as low-cost, dispatch-constrained electricity (LDE). LDE could be used for various applications which value low-cost electricity and can operate at reduced capacity factors. Examples include electrolytic hydrogen production and carbon capture. This report provides initial estimates of the quantity and availability of the potential LDE resource in the U.S. under scenarios with high VRE penetrations. It also provides supply curves that can be used in subsequent analysis of the opportunity to use the LDE. We modeled several scenarios using capacity expansion and production cost models for LDE prices ranging from $0/MWh to $30/MWh. These LDE prices, coupled with low renewable energy cost assumptions, resulted in VRE penetrations ranging from 48-66% in 2050. The resulting LDE supplies range from 100 - 300 TWh/yr at a price of $0/MWh to 3,500 - 4,200 TWh/yr at $30/MWh. Increasing LDE prices increases wind and photovoltaics deployment; however, other generation technology capacities do not decrease equivalently in our models. Thus, additional generation is available but the capacity of traditional dispatchable generation is only reduced slightly. The available LDE is concentrated in the central and southwest U.S. regions because of their high wind and solar resources.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages43
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5C00-85216


  • capacity expansion
  • curtailed
  • dispatch-constrained electricity
  • hydrogen
  • LDE
  • low-cost
  • OCE
  • otherwise curtailed electricity


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