Integrating Renewables: Opportunities to Create More Flexibility in Power System Operations


Despite extensive literature on renewable energy in China, the constraints faced by industry and regulators in expanding and integrating renewable energy into power systems remain opaque. Even power sector insiders can find it difficult to fully appreciate the overall picture of institutions and practices governing China’s power sector and the complex ways in which they interact. RAP is publishing a series of three technical primers that attempt to fill this gap. The first of these, Integrating Renewables into Power Systems in China: A Technical Primer – Power System Operations, focuses on power system operations—the matching of electricity demand and supply subject to the physical constraints of the power system.

Power systems in China evolved in response to economic, social, and political forces that were very different from those in other countries. As a result, many operating institutions and practices in China are unique, rooted in the country’s recent history, and English translations and high-level descriptions often make them seem more familiar than they actually are. These institutions and practices were designed to support power systems dominated by heavy industrial demand and baseload coal generation for an economy whose output was, to some extent, planned. Many of them will need to change to accommodate the increasingly diverse needs of a dynamic economy and the government’s vision of a low-carbon electricity supply powered by significant amounts of variable wind and solar generation.

A significant disconnect exists between current power system operations in China and the operational flexibility needed by systems with higher penetrations of wind and solar energy. Current operations are often subject to administrative allocation methods and are embedded in political institutions that have their roots in an era of central planning. Moving toward a more flexible power system will require:

  • More economic unit commitment and dispatch, both within provincial balancing areas and between them;
  • Ancillary services definitions and rules that are well-matched to power system needs; and
  • A more economic approach of integrating demand-side resources into operations.

While improvements in these areas are necessary to cost-effectively integrate variable renewable power sources in China, they will also reduce costs, emissions, and improve reliability for the power system as a whole—even without integrating renewable generation.

Integrating Renewables into Power Systems in China: A Technical Primer – Power System Operations is the latest of RAP’s ongoing work in this area, and outlines the current organizations and institutions governing power system operations in China, ancillary services practices, load management processes, regional power trading schemes, and the challenges that these institutions and practices create for the integration of variable renewable energy sources. Subsequent technical primers will address electricity sector planning and electricity wholesale and retail pricing. Look for these in Spring and Fall 2015.