Evaluating rotational inertia as a component of grid reliability with high penetrations of variable renewable energy

Samuel C. Johnson, Dimitri J. Papageorgiou, Dharik S. Mallapragada, Thomas A. Deetjen, Joshua D. Rhodes, Michael E. Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growth of electricity generation from variable renewable resources like wind and solar has raised questions about future grid stability. This paper used several renewable energy penetration scenarios to determine when an electric grid might be more vulnerable to frequency contingencies, such as a generator outage. Unit commitment and dispatch modeling was used to quantify system inertia, an established proxy for grid stability. A case study of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas grid was used to illustrate the method. Results from the modeled scenarios showed that the Texas grid is resilient to major grid changes, even with relatively high penetrations (∼30% of annual energy generation compared to 18% in 2017) of renewable energy. However, retiring nuclear power plants and private-use networks in the model led to unstable inertia levels in our results. When the system inertia was constrained to meet a minimum threshold in our model, multiple coal and natural gas combined-cycle plants were dispatched at part-load or at their minimum operating level to maintain stable system inertia levels. This behavior is expected to expand with higher renewable energy penetrations and could occur on other electric grids that are reliant on synchronous generators for inertia support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-271
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019


  • Frequency stability
  • Grid reliability
  • Renewable energy
  • Rotational inertia
  • Unit commitment & dispatch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Pollution
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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