If You Want More Wind, Solar, And Electric Vehicles, You Are Gonna Need More Transmission

2022-11-10 11:42:05 By : Ms. dongdg zheng

PALM SPRINGS, CA - MAY 13: Giant wind turbines are powered by strong prevailing winds on May 13, ... [+] 2008 near Palm Springs, California. A US government report released this week concludes that wind energy could generate 20 percent of the electricity produced in the US by 2030, as much as is currently provided by nuclear reactors. Although wind energy constitutes only about 1 percent of the electricity of the nation, wind energy is experiencing a growth spurt with an increase of 45 percent jump last year. The report envisions more than 75,000 new wind turbines, many of them bigger than those in use today, and many of them in offshore waters, to increase production from the current 16,000 megawatts of power to 300,000 megawatts. The report does not predict that such growth will actually occur but rather that it is possible. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

There’s a fundamental disconnect in many consumers’ minds: on the one hand, they generally favor using more renewables to meet climate goals. On the other, they are wary about building infrastructure, particularly “in their backyard” — an obvious impediment to the expanded use of green energy.

Building energy infrastructure is a tricky business. Private entities have limited resources, and the payoff is often too distant. But the transmission grid is aging and needs to be updated and expanded to hit net-zero goals. But many communities don’t want ugly lines near them. Such expansion and modernization, however, would give utilities access to clean generation while helping increase the grid’s reliability.

“We're looking at a significant expansion of the transmission system. A recent report indicates that it's at least 60% growth by 2030. We might even need to triple our existing systems by 2050 to meet the larger growing clean electricity demands,” says Maria Robinson, director, grid employment office at the U.S. Department of Energy, who spoke at event hosted by the United States Energy Association in which this reporter served as a panelist.

She adds that most of the transformers — the device that transfers electric currents — on the transmission system are also at least 25 years old. They need replacing. Upgrading the grid is also an option — or adding new digital components so that the wires can become more efficient and carry more electrons. For example, CenterPoint Energy CNP Inc. and DTE Energy DTE Co. installed similar technologies to tell operators which units to run and where to avoid congestion.

Black & Veatch says that 60% of the country’s localized distribution lines are outdated. Brattle Group adds that $2 trillion is needed by 2030 to modernize the lines, noting that distributed energy resources can alleviate stress on the primary grid and meet 20% of peak load by 2030. “Reconductoring” is a solution — one of installing new conductor wires onto the existing transmission.

“We need these energy super highways. But in some cases, we're just going to have to widen the existing road,” says Duane Highley, chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. “It’s an essential part of the solution.” That process takes 6 to 12 months, where building transmission takes years.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 21: A view of high voltage transmission towers on February 21, 2021 in ... [+] Houston, Texas. Millions of Texans lost their power when winter storm Uri hit the state and knocked out coal, natural gas and nuclear plants that were unprepared for the freezing temperatures brought on by the storm. Wind turbines that provide an estimated 24 percent of energy to the state became inoperable when they froze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

But the country must expand the grid. The REPEAT Project says that if the transmission grid fails to develop more than 1% a year, it will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 800 million tons yearly by 2030. Stated differently, if the grid doesn't grow, the goal of the Inflation Reduction Act will go unrealized, losing more than 80% of the emissions gains. That hurts wind, solar, and electric vehicles.

For carbon neutrality to happen, the grid needs to expand 2% to 3% yearly, which occurred between 1978 and 2020.

“The clogs and the interconnection queue are symptomatic and (proof) there’s not enough transmission,” says Michael Skelly, chief executive of Grid United. “Back in the day, you could enter the queue, and a year later, you're off to the races, because we had capacity on the grid. Now we've used that up. We have to build new wires. Transmission is a no regrets investment.”

The last time energy legislation passed was in 2005. That law gave federal energy regulators “backstop authority” to step in and see lines through to completion if the states stalled. But the courts struck that down, and regulators are negligent in exercising that authority.

The Building a Better Grid Initiative, which passed a year ago, is in the process of drawing up plans to expand transmission system. The analysis will also suggest ways to pay for such growth and to “facilitate transmission development in areas where state or local permitting requirements would otherwise make a project difficult or impossible to complete.”

To that end, Maria Robinson with the Energy Department says stakeholders will be involved in the siting and permitting process at every step. The Inflation Reduction Act provides funds for economic development to affected communities. But consumer education is critical to resolving the dilemma.

“I’d say there were decades previous, probably the fifties and sixties, and to some extent the seventies and early eighties, where transmission was more easily constructed. There are several factors now that make it more complicated,” Phillip Moeller, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute adds.

Sunlight is reflected off power lines as steam rises from the Miller coal Power Plant in Adamsville, ... [+] Alabama on April 11, 2021. - The James H. Miller Jr. site faces no immediate shutdown threat and has the backing of many locals because of the jobs it offers — despite sending about as much planet warming carbon dioxide into the sky last year as 3.7 million cars. The plant highlights a key problem in counteracting climate change — even for people who have accepted it is happening, the threat can be overshadowed by pressing daily needs like paying bills. That ongoing battle will bring together world leaders this week in Washington as President Joe Biden works to revitalize a global effort left in chaos by his predecessor Donald Trump. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

About 10,000 power plants, 170,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, and 6 million miles of low-voltage distribution lines make up today's bulk power system. It also has more than 15,000 substations.

Decarbonization leads to grid expansion. But utilities must connect the dots for consumers and propose a fair cost allocation. American Electric AEP Power says if the North American high voltage and long-distance lines grow by 9%, renewables will provide 40% of the country’s juice in 2030.

“It will be a collaborative process,” says Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy at General Motors GM , in an earlier talk with this writer. “Once it is understood that this demand for wind and solar energy will only be met with additional transmission, then utilities will be a great position to discuss.”

As it stands now, the grid is growing at a different pace than the Inflation Reduction Act requires. Can microgrids alleviate some of the stress?

Distributed energy resources rely on renewable energy, improve resiliency, and reduce costs. California is building microgrids to protect against mass outages caused by wildfires. And Puerto Rico made similar moves after a hurricane wiped out the island’s electric network. Consumers want to take control of their energy usage and keep the lights on during outages. That, in turn, prevents wear-and-tear on the central grid and can save utilities money.

However, a centralized system is the most efficient method to distribute electricity to the masses. A utility-scale solar system connecting to the electric grid can produce power for less money than one rooftop solar setup. It’s like linking all the mini-grids in a community in case one of them goes down, says Tri-State’s Duane Highly. It adds some security.

“Microgrids have their place” among businesses and institutions that need backup power, adds Moeller, with the Edison Electric Institute. “But they can’t distract from the need for central transmission, which benefits everyone.”

Climate change concerns many consumers, who are demanding cleaner energy forms. But the question is whether supporters can sell a buildout to a broader constituency. The network is getting upgraded, allowing more electrons to flow through. But to realize carbon neutrality, it must expand by 60% by 2030. The stakeholders have to understand and get on board.