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Plan to Zero - The electric super speed way #7

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization, Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Jan 5, 2023

Follow up to the ongoing 'Plan to Zero' articles:


The electric super speed way

The number of steps in getting to a permitted and approved rights of way for a new transmission line make the effort much harder than climbing mount Everest. Typical times for successful paths are in the 10–20-year range, with more than 60% of the attempts eventually being abandoned.

In the US FERC, EPA, State commissions (one for every state the line wants to run through), all the landowners along the path, each community that the line intends to run through (and some that can only see the towers), and many others have a say in building transmission.

A disproven report that Transmission causes cancer (the author faked the data and was convicted) energizes communities to fight any transmission line. Even though the report was withdrawn, and counter reports exist. Even the California Health Department has indicated there is not even correlation between transmission lines and cancer, let alone causation.

Without extensive use of eminent domain by the federal government, likely new transmission corridors will be harder, not easier to create and build on.

Rather than struggle with creating new corridors, upgrading current paths may be a faster, easier effort. Though it is not without costs, and risks.
Both A/C and D/C transmission have their uses, advantages and disadvantages. We can build with existing technology 765KV A/C transmission and 800 KV D/C transmission with equipment from North American based suppliers.

Most transmission in North America is built at significantly lower voltage and could be upgraded to those voltages. For an upgrade from 138KV to 765KV, the voltage increase would allow up to 5 times the power flow [there are a lot of engineering considerations here].

Conductors could also be upgraded to double the power that is sent through the lines. [again engineering considerations].

In combination the two techniques could increase power flow by a factor of 10.

Doing this kind of upgrade is neither cheap nor fast, and it involves a dance on the edge of reliability, when taking out of service a key portion of transmission to do these rebuilds.


Today no one is seriously proposing this, instead they are working to create new paths, most of which will be built at considerably lower voltages than it is possible to build.


Realize that upgrading the voltage means new switchyards, upgraded stations, larger towers, and other changes, it will likely cost more to do than building in a new right of way, but done right, it provides much of the needed transmission capacity in North America to support renewables and import and export of electricity between control areas.


This is a tough decision, with real costs and benefits. The question is, are we ready to look at alternatives to new transmission rights of way, and spend the next 20 years upgrading what we have?

Is it worth doing to move electricity a thousand miles or more?


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Doug Houseman's picture
Thank Doug for the Post!
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