In the Spring of 2011, Reos Partners began to assist the Western Electricity Coordinating Council’s scenario development project in service to the US Department of Energy.
WECC is tasked with advising the Department of Energy (DOE) on the planning of transmission lines across the western half of North America, from northern Mexico to southwestern Canada and from Colorado to California, over the next 20 years. Representatives from industry, state, provincial, and national governments, tribes, environmental groups, and technology and consumer groups comprise the Scenario Planning Steering Group (SPSG), the multi-stakeholder group responsible for developing the scenarios.
The focus question of the scenario exercise is: How will demand for electric power services in the WECC regions change in the next 10 and 20 years, and how will electric power supply services (and related transmission networks) change to accommodate that demand? An additional key question concerns renewables: How much and what types of renewable energy sources will come online in the next 10 to 20 years, and how should the transmission grid evolve accordingly? This is an interesting line of inquiry for those concerned about renewable energy, in that it delves into the heart of issues concerning local, regional, and national economic development; stewardship of natural resources; policy; and public and private investment.
Ultimately, the combination of scenario narratives and related numeric models will provide a comprehensive set of plausible future supply and resource conditions and policy decisions. The scenarios and subsequent analysis will form a comprehensive package of stakeholder-vetted, regional planning models, data, and transmission plans for North America’s western grid. In July, WECC released our first draft of the scenarios.
Imagining Possible Futures
While scenario analysis does not allow accurate predictions of the future (a generally impossible task, especially over long periods of time), it does provide a tool for rigorously imagining alternative possible futures in which important decisions may play out. The WECC scenarios are based on the following key structural elements:
1. an anchoring “focus question” for all of the scenarios (given above)
2. a set of “key drivers” representing trends and factors that must be reflected in all of the scenarios 3. an organizing matrix structure based on two highly uncertain and important key drivers
Ultimately, from a list of 10 key drivers synthesized from stakeholder interviews and initial scenario exercises, the SPSG chose “Economic growth in the WECC regions” and “Technological innovation in electricity supply and demand services” as the two most important and uncertain drivers. The group then built a scenario matrix with “Economic growth” on one axis and “Technological innovation” on the other. Thus, schemes for four different “worlds” are constructed: high economic growth/current technologies, low economic growth/current technologies, high economic growth/breakthrough technologies, and low economic growth/breakthrough technologies. The scenario matrix is a conceptual model; the future can be explored both within distinct quadrants as well as by moving among the quadrants over time to represent a plausible evolution of future conditions.
The current scenario narratives are early drafts of stories that describe these different future “worlds” or contexts for WECC transmission decisions. The drafts will provide input into WECC’s so-called “Study Case Development Tool” and the “Network Expansion Tool,” two models that will help decision-makers quantitatively understand financial and other implications of various options presented per scenario narrative. Model runs will be used iteratively over the course of the 20-year, long-term RTEP planning process, and will provide input to further expand or change scenario narrative drafts.
We expect to wrap up our work with WECC in 2013. We’ll publish an update in a future issue of the Reos Newsletter.