Much is being asked of today’s electricity grid: reliance on increasing amounts of renewable power, and seamless response to variable demand and supply, all while maintaining reliability 24/7. The SWITCH model can point the way to smart, timely investments to meet these requirements.

A loose acronym for “solar, wind, conventional, and hydroelectric generation and transmission,” SWITCH is an investment-planning model for power systems that rely heavily on renewable energy. It lets planners explore options for making the best, most cost-effective decisions of which projects to build over a multi-decade period to meet electricity demand and reduce CO2 emissions. Employing an unprecedented quantity of spatial and temporal data, SWITCH spotlights the wisest choices based on the existing grid, new technologies, the location of renewable energy sources, fuel and generator costs, and public policy.

According to a recent study using SWITCH, the use of wind and solar power could cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the western states to 54% of 1990 levels by 2030, without reducing reliability. The cost of hitting such a target depends precisely on which projects are developed to adapt and enhance the grid.

Working with i4Energy, UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory has adapted the SWITCH model to optimize planning for the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), which coordinates the bulk electric systems in 14 western 
states, two Canadian provinces, and northern Baja California in Mexico. New features are making the open-source model an even more accurate, indispensable tool for energy planners.