The Evolving Role of Extreme Weather Events in the U.S. Power System with High Levels of Variable Renewable Energy

Joshua Novacheck, Justin Sharp, Marty Schwarz, Paul Donohoo-Vallett, Zach Tzavelis, Grant Buster, Michael Rossol

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


As weather dependent renewable generation grows, it is important to understand the covariance of renewable resources and load. In a power grid with a high penetration of renewable energy, periods of high system risk no longer correspond only to peak hours. In particular, high renewable energy complicates the stress extreme weather events already place on the grid, and it shifts what types of weather conditions are most problematic. Accordingly, reliability assessments in long-term planning studies may change dramatically in the coming years. This may impact how utilities and grid operators assess reliability in long-term planning. Weather that stresses grid resilience typically does so by creating peak loads across a broad region, at the same time as placing constraints and increasing outage potential for transmission and generation. Two examples are cold snap event like the "Polar Vortex" of January 2014 and extreme heat events like that which the Southwest United States experienced in June 2017. The Extreme cold weather event saw record low temperatures extending from the northern tier states all the way to the Gulf coast, which led to extreme heating loads and the forced outage of conventional generators in states where generating plants were ill equipped to deal temperatures well-below freezing. Similarly, extreme heat events create a spike in air conditioning load while reducing transmission and generation capacity, and increasing generation cooling water constraints. In addition, extreme weather like hurricanes, tornados, thunderstorms, especially organized convection that covers a broad area, and winter weather can cause significant impacts to transmission and distribution grids.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages285
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-78394


  • extreme weather
  • high levels of variable generation
  • meteorological analysis
  • production cost modeling


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