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Inter-state transmission projects could cut costs of renewable power system by nearly half, report says

image credit: Courtesy MIT

The U.S. transmission network is mostly outdated and falling well short of the needs of a country committed to decarbonization. Among the most pressing needs for a system to go 100% renewable, expanded transmission lines are probably the least sexy of the bunch. 

However, a new report from some folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims that an updated transmission system that connects states and regions across the country could "reduce the system cost of electricity in a 100%-renewable US power system by 46% compared with a state-by-state approach, from 135 $/MWh to 73 $/MWh."

Cutting decarbonization costs have often been tied to vamping up nuclear or innovations in long-duration battery systems but the authors of the report said those work specifically for "isolated systems." The most effective cost-cutter would be a massive investment in inter-state and inter-region transmission. 

"While decarbonization of the electricity system is feasible at the level of individual states and regions, it can be accomplished at a significantly lower cost when implemented at the national level," the report's authors, Patrick R. Brown and Audun Butterud, write. 

Of course, they acknowledge this is easier said than done, especially in the U.S. where transmission projects require permitting from the federal, state, and local communities and such infrastructure proposals draw an objection from the local populations they impact.  

Maybe it's time we turn more of our attention and advocacy to inter-regional transmission projects in the United States as this decades next great innovation. "Innovation" maybe is not even the right word. "Political victory" may be more accurate since it will take winning the hearts and minds of communities who will have to accept the projects, more than it will take any technological innovation. 

Christopher Neely's picture

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