SummaryIncreasing variable renewable energy (VRE) is one of the main approaches for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation. However, we find a GHG increase risk associated with increasing VRE: VRE crowds out nuclear power (VRECON) but cannot fully obtain the left market share, which is obtained by fossil energy. We developed an integrated dispatch-and-investment model to estimate the VRECON GHG-boosting effect in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In the above two markets, VRECON could increase the annual GHG emission by up to 136 MTCO2eq totally. Furthermore, we find that the VRECON GHG-boosting effect can be mitigated by combining wind and solar power. We argue that, for GHG abatement, policymakers should require the proper mix of wind and solar power in renewable portfolio standards and control nuclear power’s retirement pace to match the progress of VRE growth.


  • Renewable energy has been promoted to reshuffle electricity generation, working toward decarbonization (Hertwich et al, 2015; Pacala, 2004)

  • The potential risk of VRE crowds out nuclear power (VRECON) boosting greenhouse gas (GHG) To demonstrate the concept of VRECON and its impact on GHG emissions, we constructed an analytical framework as shown in Figure 1, which is based on the studies of Ueckerdt et al (2013) and Nicolosi and Fursch (2009)

  • Our research provides a counter-intuitive phenomenon that Variable renewable energy (VRE) could have a negative impact on electricity system GHG emissions—the potential risk that VRE crowding out nuclear power will boost GHG emissions

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Renewable energy has been promoted to reshuffle electricity generation, working toward decarbonization (Hertwich et al, 2015; Pacala, 2004). Many countries have set ambitious targets for renewable energy penetration in the coming decades. The European Union purports to supply at least 32% of its electricity demand by renewable energy by 2030 (the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, 2018). Maryland and New Jersey, in the United States, have targeted that their renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) for 2030 are up to 50% (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2020). In 2019, global renewable energy electricity generation reached 2108 TWh, equivalent to 1.27 times that of 2015 and to 23.2% of the world’s total electricity consumption in that year (IEA, 2021). Variable renewable energy (VRE), mainly wind power and solar power, are the main growth segments, accounting for 42.7% and 31.6%, respectively, of the growth in renewable energy generation (IEA, 2021)

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