Impacts of Extreme Heat on Solar and Wind Power Production: An Assessment of Princeton University's Net Zero America E+RE+ Pathway, Demetra Yancopoulos, UG '22 (3960969)
Fossil fuels release excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing abnormal rates of planetary warming. Mitigating further greenhouse gas emissions will require increasing penetration of non-dispatchable renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Princeton University’s Net Zero America E+RE+ pathway outlines a carbon-neutral US economy reliant on solar and wind power. Configurations are driven by least-cost objectives and constrained by land availability, rendering the infrastructure plausible but not necessarily resilient. In this study, we assess the resilience of the E+RE+ pathway to extreme heat events during which energy demand surges. We identify high-risk heat days as days with: (i) 85th percentile temperature anomalies in a region of interest, and (ii) 85th percentile population weighted cooling degree days. We compare solar and wind resource on high-risk heat days to all days using historical estimates (1979-2019) and model projections of the late 21st century to assess whether surging demand on high-risk heat days might be matched by E+RE+ renewable infrastructure. We perform analysis in several US regions. In Texas, we find that increasing wind and solar resource on high-risk heat days make it likely that surging energy demands will be matched by non-dispatchable E+RE+ renewable infrastructure. In Florida and in northeastern/midwestern US states, we find that increases in solar power on high-risk heat days compensate for reduced or average windspeeds, likely matching energy demand on high-risk heat days given a mid-range climate mitigation scenario; although, we worry that in more severe climate change scenarios it will fail to do so.