Seasonal Cost-Benefit Analysis of Automated Distribution Feeder Upgrades with Advanced Mitigation Technologies

Michael Emmanuel, Yingchen Zhang

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The increasing deployment of distributed solar photovoltaics (DPV) to meet clean energy goals can trigger adverse grid operation issues, such as voltage excursions and the violation of thermal loading constraints of the power delivery elements (e.g., lines and transformers) on the evolving electricity infrastructure. Such integration issues would require distribution upgrades with associated costs to mitigate them and to maintain reliable and resilient grid operating conditions. Traditional distribution network upgrade approaches use a specific single snapshot analysis that is overly conservative. This study considers a multi-time point analysis to capture both moderate (probable bounds) and extreme grid operating conditions using time points such as minimum load with minimum photovoltaics (PV), maximum load with maximum PV, maximum load with minimum PV, and minimum load with maximum PV. Further, this study investigates seasonal variation impacts and associated distribution upgrade costs for a spring season case (March, representing a low load and high PV scenario) and a summer case (July, representing a high load and high PV scenario). Such seasonal analysis will allow system operators to characterize upgrade requirements and associated costs across various periods. Because the spatial distribution of DPV can impact upgrade and associated costs, this study investigates three common DPV deployment scenarios - randomly deployed, close to the substation, and far from the substation - at different penetration levels. Apart from spatial distribution impacts, this project evaluates the techno-economic impacts of the nodal photovoltaic penetration factor (NPPF) for generating the various DPV deployment scenarios at increasing penetration levels. This project investigates the impact of varying nodal PV-to-load ratios using conservative and extreme NPPF values of 3 and 10, respectively. This study investigates the deployment of traditional infrastructure upgrade strategies, such as installing new voltage regulating equipment, transformers and lines replacements, and the activation of advanced inverter functionality (e.g., autonomous volt/VAR) in expanding PV hosting capacity. Existing DPV systems are assumed to operate with the legacy unity power factor, and we considered the possibility of retrofitting such systems with the activation of volt/VAR control as integration standards and regulations continue to evolve to allow such functions. The cost-benefit analysis metrics used in study include distribution upgrade costs, average cost per watt of the upgrade cost, average marginal cost per watt of the upgrade cost, and power losses.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages51
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5D00-84647


  • cost-benefit analysis
  • distributed PV integration
  • distribution system upgrades


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