The Potential to Improve the Value of U.S. Geothermal Electricity Generation Through Flexible Operations
Geothermal power plants have typically been operated as baseload plants. The recent expansion of wind and solar power generation creates a potential opportunity to increase the value of geothermal generation through flexible operations. In recent years, California’s wholesale electricity markets have exhibited frequent, short-term periods of negative pricing, indicating that additional flexibility would be valued in the market. Here, we examine local nodal hourly price records at all geothermal plants located in the western United States. We describe how the frequency and temporal characteristics of negative pricing episodes have changed over recent years. Based on these price series, we calculate the value of multiple strategies of flexible operations. Additionally, we use the estimates of future prices, developed through a capacity-expansion model and a dispatch model, to explore how the value of such flexible operations might change along with further penetration of variable renewable power sources. Based on the historical pricing records, we find that simple curtailment of operations during negative pricing episodes could increase the average energy value by 1–2 $/MWh and that allowing for increased production during limited high-priced hours, in addition to curtailment during negative priced hours, could potentially double the increase in value (up to 4 $/MWh). The forward-looking simulations indicate reduced values of flexibility from geothermal power despite higher penetrations of variable renewable energy. This result highlights the possibility that increasing flexibility options throughout the system may counteract the influence of increased variable renewable energy deployment.