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Question

In a few years, more national grid networks will take up renewables for electrification - are current transmission networks ready for the increase in generated capacity across the supply chain?

Oghosa Erhahon's picture
Advisor Teagan Energy

Lawyer and Energy Advisor with experience in energy access & efficiency, electricity markets, and ESG strategy. Low carbon energy emissions consultant with roles across circular economy and...

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Increasing the grid network capacity through renewable energy sources is a great attempt at decarbonizing while increasing clean energy production. Several national plans even, amongst African countries have plans to include renewable sources into the energy mix. For Nigeria, with a 2030 target - it anticipates an increase of 30% of renewable energy in the electricity mix. 

 However, if the grids aren't optimized to receive, store, and transmit more capacity in a few years and the cost of power sector infrastructure also increasing, would renewable energy from network grids become more expensive for customers? 

If there must be subsequent investments into the transmission network, who should bare that cost as well?

How transmission investment could unlock global growth in renewables | EY Ireland 

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Currently, the transmission capacity of most African countries is inadequate to handle the available generation. Besides, the investments required for such a capital-intensive project of adding transmission capacity are extremely limited to most African governments. 

Thus, Africa has the option of exploring the off-grid addition of renewables to its energy mix by introducing mini-grids to the renewable end. This way, Africa can benefit from renewable technology as it builds its capacity to merge them with time. 

Surely, this approach will have its challenges but are surmountable. It is, therefore, worth trying to bridge the energy gap as the drive to bridge the digital gap intensifies.

Oghosa, adding renewable energy sources does not increasing grid network capacity. Engineers, in specific instances, are forced to increase capacity of transmission to avoid damage to the grid from sudden spikes in renewable generation. I think the real question is, "Are electricity customers ready for the increased costs of adding unpredictable wind and solar as sources of their grid's electricity?".

This is the reason why transmission planning process from ISO/RTO is very important which evaluates from time to time to identify the opportunities and challenges from the grid perspective. Then together working with government, utility partners (both at transmission and distribution) come up with a roadmap that is in alignment with the initiatives that are agreed upon. Bottom line, there is no one party can solve this, it requires more collaborative effort from regulatory bodies (such as NERC and FERC in United States), ISO/RTO, individual utilities and government

I believe that planners and engineers at the nation's utilities and ISO's have a great understanding of the need for EHV transmission projects across North America.  

 The financing is available.  Routing and permitting, while a lengthy process, is possible especially when underground and DC are options.  Design and construction resources are eager to compete and add value for incumbents or developers.  

The bottom line.....is there an off-taker ( a customer) for the power?  

Several big transmission projects that will bring renewables to load languish while waiting for a customer.  TransWest, Soo Green, the Hydro Quebec efforts to build through NH or ME. If these projects had complete PPA's for long term power, the routing and permitting would be done and design/construction would be underway.

In my opinion, when we need the transmission grid, we will build it.  There is no need to "Build it, and "see if they come"

Oghosa Erhahon's picture
Oghosa Erhahon on Jan 28, 2022

I agree with not building before the supply comes - but is this not part of 'failing to prepare is preparing to fail' if countries expect their extent of electricity to increase significantly over the years - and transmission investments and construction take relevant years to complete...why wait right? 

 

So I was initally coming from the point from a developing nations prospective and how competitive investments actually get when there is just one pool of funds, would you still expect to not build and see if it comes ? 

All new generation whether renewable or conventional (gas, oil, etc) gets evaluated by the relevant RTO for their impact on the grid. If it is found that the new capacity causes loading issues locally or in some cases on distant facilities, they are charged an upgrade cost so that the grid expands along with the new capacity.

While some people believe this is a band-aid approach, however, given that more than half the projects that initially enter the queue drop out at some point and that it usually takes several years to build new transmission, there is little choice.

John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Jan 26, 2022

While that is very true Len, the reality is eventually you hit the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Renewables will continue to interconnect if those upgrades are low cost. Eventually you hit a renewable that gets stuck with a billion-dollar bill for transmission upgrades and they simply walk away rather than build. Subsequently no new renewables will build in that constrained region because they don’t want to incur that kind of cost.

Fortunately a number of progressive utilities are increasing the capacity of their existing transmission lines by reconductoring with high-capacity, energy-efficient conductors like ACCC Conductor. While CTC Global can offer more than 1,000 project examples showing how well this works, please take a look at a T&D World article written by Mustafa Ali at Southern California Edison. A single reconductoring project virtually doubled line capacity and reconducting saved ratepayer $85 million USD and months of time. Article link: https://www.tdworld.com/overhead-transmission/article/21162860/reconductoring-vs-rebuilding-sce-experience

 

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