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Thought Leadership Publications

The 21st Century Power Partnership publications provide information about and analysis of market design and regulatory issues for clean energy and 21st century power systems. Published work appears in scientific journals and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory publications database.

Status of Power System Transformation 2018: Advanced Power Plant Flexibility

May 2018
This report provides a comprehensive overview of how power plants can contribute to making power systems more flexible, as well as offering a range of guidance on strategies to promote cost-effective and system-appropriate power plant flexibility measures. Based on a wealth of real-life case studies and data, it provides a reference source for the technical capabilities of power plants in a diverse set of country contexts. In particular, it showcases a number of technical options and examples of how retrofits to existing power plants have been a cost-effective tool for enhancing system flexibility. In addition, it provides examples of policy, market and regulatory instruments available to unlock power plant flexibility and discusses how these instruments can be combined into a comprehensive roll-out strategy. The report is aimed at policy makers and regulators who are not experts in engineering, but who need to understand power plant flexibility in order to enhance system planning and upgrade policy, market and regulatory frameworks.

Next-Generation Performance-Based Regulation: Emphasizing Utility Performance to Unleash Power Sector Innovation

May 2018 (Update)
We have re-organized the original report into a new 3-volume series, which you can read here:

Next-Generation Performance-Based Regulation: Emphasizing Utility Performance to Unleash Power Sector Innovation

September 2017
Performance-based regulation (PBR) has established a pathway for reforming hundred-year-old regulatory structures to unleash innovations within 21st century power systems. The old regulatory paradigm, built to ensure safe and reliable electricity at reasonable prices from capital-intensive electricity monopolies, is adjusting to disruptive technological advances that are transforming the way electricity is generated, delivered, and consumed. PBR enables regulators to recognize the value electric utilities bring to customers by enabling advanced energy technologies and integrating smart solutions into the utility grid and utility operations. These changes in the electric energy system and customer capacities have catalyzed increased interest in motivating regulated entities to move beyond traditional cost-of-service performance regulation. This report addresses best practices and lessons gleaned from more than two decades of PBR in practice and analyzes how those can be applied to design innovative PBR programs.

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Status of Power System Transformation 2017

June 2017
Power sectors around the world are undergoing significant change due to the rapid uptake of new supply- and demand-side technologies. Large-scale wind and solar power as well as distributed energy resources are influencing the planning, operation, and profitability of power systems. Policymakers, utilities, and other stakeholders need to apply innovative approaches to transform the power system, with the objective to achieve sustainable, affordable and reliable electricity. This report provides an overview of current trends across the globe, with a focus on the integration of renewables and local grid development. A framework for assessing the status of power system transformation is also introduced and applied to Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico, and Australia.

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Policies for Enabling Corporate Sourcing of Renewable Energy Internationally

May 2017
Interest in renewable energy (RE) procurement in new markets is on the rise. Corporations are increasing their commitments to procuring RE, motivated by an interest in using clean energy sources and reducing their energy expenses. Many large companies have facilities and supply chains in multiple countries and are interested in procuring renewable energy in the grids where they use energy. The policy environment around the world plays a key role in shaping where and how corporations will invest in renewables. This report explores the policy and regulatory enabling environment for corporate sourcing of renewables.

Overview brochure

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Clean Restructuring: Design Elements for Low Carbon Wholesale Markets and Beyond

May 2016
Countries around the world are in various stages of reforming and restructuring their power systems to better meet development needs. Changes in technology, business models, societal needs, and environmental goals are increasing pressure for countries to consider improvements to their power systems. This report addresses key issues associated clean restructuring—the transition from traditional, vertically integrated utilities to competitive wholesale markets that rely on variable renewable electricity sources, demand response, and other clean energy options.

Overview brochure

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Status Report on Power System Transformation

May 2015
Power system transformation is a complex, active process that is taking place at different rates and in different forms around the world. This transformation has multiple drivers, including technological advances, policy goals, and social change, and multiple enablers, especially policy, financial, and business model innovation. This report aims to bring the power system transformation picture into sharper focus, bolstering the evidence base for power system transformation by providing a collection of empirical examples of the types of innovations that are emerging around the world.

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Power Systems of the Future: A 21st Century Power Partnership Thought Leadership Report

February 2015
This report summarizes key forces driving transformation in the power sector around the world, presents a framework for evaluating decisions regarding extent and pace of change, and defines pathways for transformation. Powerful trends in technology, policy environments, financing, and business models are driving change in power sectors globally. In light of these trends, the question is no longer whether power systems will be transformed, but rather how these transformations will occur. Three approaches to policy and technology decision-making can guide these transformations: adaptive, reconstructive, and evolutionary. Within these approaches, the report explores the five pathways that have emerged as viable models for power system transformation.

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Two-page overview

Making Coal Flexible: Getting From Baseload to Peaking Plant

January 2015
Power systems in the 21st century—with higher penetration of low-carbon energy, smart grids, and other emerging technologies—will favor resources that have low marginal costs and provide system flexibility. Such flexibility includes the ability to cycle on and off as well as run at low minimum loads to complement variations in output from high penetration of renewable energy. Can coal-fired power plants continue to operate cost-effectively if they cycle routinely? Yes, according to experiences from an actual multi-unit North American coal generating station. This flexibility requires limited modifications to hardware, but extensive modifications to operational practice.

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Also available in Mandarin

The Evolving Role of the Power Sector Regulator

April 2014
This report seeks to briefly characterize the evolving role of the power sector regulator. It describes seven existing objectives of power sector regulators and nine emerging objectives, highlighting key challenges and outlining interdependencies. As the preliminary installment in a series, it aims to lay the groundwork for subsequent reports and case studies that will explore these topics in depth.

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Flexibility in 21st Century Power Systems

May 2014
Flexibility of operation—the ability of a power system to respond to change in demand and supply—is a characteristic of all power systems. Flexibility is especially prized in twenty-first century power systems, with higher levels of grid-connected variable renewable energy (primarily, wind and solar).

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Research Highlights fact sheet

Flexible Coal: Evolution from Baseload to Peaking Plant

December 2013
Twenty-first century power systems, with higher penetration levels of low-carbon energy, smart grids, and other emerging technologies, will favor resources that have low marginal costs and provide system flexibility (e.g., the ability to cycle on and off to follow changes in variable renewable energy plant output). Questions remain about both the fate of coal plants in this scenario and whether they can cost-effectively continue to operate if they cycle routinely. The experience from the CGS plant demonstrates that coal plants can become flexible resources.

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Market Evolution: Wholesale Electricity Market Design for 21st Century Power Systems

October 2013
This report reviews the suite of wholesale power market designs in use and under consideration to ensure adequacy, security, and flexibility in a landscape of significant variable renewable energy. It also examines considerations needed to ensure that wholesale market designs are inclusive of emerging technologies, such as demand response, distributed generation, and storage.

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Integrating Variable Renewable Energy in Electric Power Markets: Best Practices from International Experience (Research Highlights)

This fact sheet highlights a 2012 report on best practices to enable variable renewable energy grid integration. The report studies cases from Australia (South Australia), Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, and the United States (Colorado and Texas), which have effectively integrated variable RE utilizing diverse approaches.

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This fact sheet highlights a 2012 report on best practices to enable variable renewable energy grid integration. The report studies cases from Australia (South Australia), Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, and the United States (Colorado and Texas), which have effectively integrated variable RE utilizing diverse approaches.

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