Any effective plan to combat climate change depends on a basic technology: long electrical wires run through tall towers.
The United States needs to add hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines in the coming decades and weave the dispersed regional power system into an interconnected grid that can support the influx of renewable energy.
A nationwide network of short spur lines and long-distance high-voltage power lines will deliver wind, solar, and hydroelectric power to where it is needed when it becomes available nationwide. When heat waves or winter storms cause regional power shortages, it can help provide reliable backup power, and as households and businesses increasingly rely on electricity to power their vehicles, heating systems, etc., to meet the soaring demand.
This is a grand vision, but it has some serious flaws. First, in this decade alone, building the necessary power lines may cost hundreds of billions of dollars.Princeton led learn It is found that in the next 9 years alone, the United States will need to spend an additional 350 billion U.S. dollars to develop the required transmission capacity. This is when wind and solar power will provide half of the country’s electricity by 2030, making the country expected to achieve zero emissions by the middle of this century.
Even if the government and companies vacate the necessary funds, there is a more difficult challenge ahead: states, counties, cities, and towns across the country need to quickly sign a large number of new transmission lines. The United States has become very bad at allowing such multinational projects.
A sort of A series of efforts Provide cheap and clean Hydropower from Canada, Wind from the great plains, And hybrid renewable energy From southwest It has been caught in legal disputes or rejected for years, usually because a region is unwilling to let electric wires pass through its land. Even those large-scale power grid projects that are actually built can easily take ten years to complete the approval process.
There may be some help in the end.About $1 trillion Infrastructure package Moving forward in the bipartisan Senate has provided billions of dollars for transmission lines. It also includes provisions that may prove more important than money, by strengthening and clarifying federal powers to approve projects.
Nonetheless, this package represents only a small down payment of the investment and allows the required changes to be made.
The United States does not have a single power grid. It has three agings, Disconnected system, Mainly built in the middle of the last century, has limited ability to exchange electricity between states and larger regions. This is a problem because power plants may be hundreds of miles away from major cities with the greatest power demand.
The isolated grid means that electricity from fluctuating sources such as solar and wind energy can only be transported so far, which wastes part of the output and depresses prices when electricity generation exceeds regional demand during particularly windy and sunny periods (this is increasingly the case) happened at The share of these sources is growing). For example, California cannot transport excess solar energy to the Midwest at noon in the summer, nor can it use Oklahoma’s stable wind power when the sun begins to set on the west coast.
But Doug Arent, executive director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, points out that operators of integrated grids can take advantage of the lowest-cost electricity available on a larger scale and deliver it to places where demand is high.This includes where the renewable energy was generating electricity at the time, whether it was Wyoming wind Or solar energy in Florida.
Long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines also ensure that developers have a larger customer base in the city, thereby developing more solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power plants in areas that are blessed by weather, geology, or waterways. Period one or two areas.
recent Lawrence Berkeley Lab Introduction Point out that there are already more than 750 gigawatts of power generation proposals waiting in queues in five regions of the United States for transmission connections that can provide customers with electricity. The vast majority of them are solar and wind energy projects. (In contrast, America’s entire fleet Of large power plants can generate slightly more than 1,100 gigawatts of electricity. )
Other countries are leading the way in this field.China Already appeared As the world’s leader in high-voltage transmission, it has built tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines to connect its power plants to cities across the country. However, although China developed 260 GW of transmission capacity between 2014 and 2021, it is reported that the entire North American region has increased by only 7 GW. A survey Conducted by Iowa State University.
James McCalley, professor of power system engineering at Iowa State University, National Grid Research Published at the end of last year, said in a statement.
A small part needed
So how does the United States begin to close this gap?
First, it needs more money. Although the Biden government boasted that the infrastructure package provided $73 billion for “clean energy transmission,” these funds were distributed across a wide range of clean energy work, including R&D and demonstration projects in areas such as carbon capture and clean hydrogen.
Rob Gramlich, president of power consulting firm Grid Strategies, pointed out that the current version of the infrastructure package only sets aside approximately US$10 billion to US$12 billion for the erection of transmission towers and power lines.
This is only a small part of the work that the Princeton study found that the United States will need to invest in the next nine years. Princeton Research co-author and assistant professor at Princeton University Jesse Jenkins said that although federal spending is aimed at freeing up private capital, the United States still needs to invest tens of billions of dollars to reach the necessary scale for this decade.
It also established a $2.5 billion revolving loan program for the project, which effectively made the Department of Energy an initial customer for the new transmission line. This federal financing can help with time-consuming transmission projects that will need to be carried out, but before the developer arranges the customer. Observers say this can alleviate the long-standing chicken or egg problem between the construction of more power stations and the construction of transportation lines.
Eventually, the federal government can sell these rights to clean power plants that need to connect to the line because they are online.
This is a promising policy tool, “just add a zero to the budget line,” Jenkins said.
Despite the shortage of funds, the proposed infrastructure bill does solve the problem of approval.
A long-term challenge in many regions of the United States is that power generation capacity and energy demand are growing faster than the transmission systems needed to support it. People and businesses want cheap, reliable electricity, but few people accept the necessary transmission towers and wires—especially if they seem to deliver electricity and economic benefits primarily to remote areas. Often aesthetic, Environmental and social justice And criticism of business competition.
“If we are to achieve our climate goals, we must find a way to approve these large transmission projects – and historically, we have been trying to do so,” said Lindsey Walter, Deputy Director of Third Way Climate and Energy Programs, Washington, DC One of the center-left think tanks, in an email.
The 2005 Energy Law attempts to resolve these tensions, granting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can intervene and sign projects that can ease transmission restrictions in certain areas known as the National Power Transmission Corridor. But so far, the Department of Energy has only designated two such areas, in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern California.
In addition, the Federal Court of Appeals Ultimately restrict FERC’s permissions, Found that it has the right to sign the project only if the state or other jurisdiction puts the application on hold for more than one year. The court ruled that it was unable to veto the state’s refusal of the application in accordance with the law.