Innovator Article

Planning for Uncertainty in Power Generation

Renewable sources such as wind and solar power are an increasing part of the nation’s energy mix, but these green resources also bring new uncertainty to our power supply. Professor David Woodruff is collaborating on a new, federally funded project to help power utilities navigate in this new reality.

“The goal is to be able to plan to generate power in the face of the uncertainty caused by a 30 percent penetration of renewables in the power supply,” said Woodruff.

Woodruff and Distinguished Research Professor Roger Wets in the UC Davis Department of Mathematics, both leading experts on optimization under uncertainty, have teamed up on the $3 million, two-year project with partners at Iowa State University, Sandia National Laboratories, Alstom Inc. and the Independent System Operator (ISO)–New England.

The team’s goal is to develop tools for power utilities and regional system operators such as ISO–New England. The project is funded through the Green Electricity Network Integration program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. The Department of Energy also funded some of the basic research leading to this project.

Wind and solar power bring big advantages in reducing carbon emissions, but power generation can drop suddenly with cloud cover or a change in wind speed. To compensate for that, power system managers keep extra capacity from coal- and gas-fired plants in reserve. That means that the effective cost of power can fluctuate over a few hours or even minutes.

Woodruff, Wets and their colleagues are pursuing an optimal way to hedge against fluctuations in regional power supply on time-scales from 45 minutes, a few hours or 24 hours. They will exploit large-scale computational models to explore all the possibilities and come up with optimal hedging strategies.