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Is new transmission infrastructure being built at the rate needed to support new renewable energy capacity?


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  • Oct 27, 2021

More and more we're hearing that a bottleneck towards adding more renewable energy to the grid is the lack of sufficient transmission (both in terms of total capacity and the modernized upgrades needed). But it does seem like from utility and government leaders, building new transmission is getting attention and funding (with the side benefit of creating great jobs). But my question is: are we on the right pace needed? Or are we falling further behind of where we need to be to support the new renewable capacity that's expected in the coming years? 

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The greater emphasis on cleaner sources to combat climate change demands increased transmission and distribution networks.  However, the task is by no means an easy one as the mapping of the existing network and matching the newer transmission and distribution attract quite a many detail before execution.  The emphasis being different globally – solar or wind requires altogether a different approach for each country.

The influx of renewable is not new as there have been examples of its share even before the current situation.  Considering the world’s energy sources being still heavily dependent on coal, natural gas and oil, renewable mix needs to carefully plan their additions methodically. There has been considerable progress on laudable policy initiatives in line with renewable portfolio.  The challenge before us is not only generating renewable but, more importantly effective transmission and distribution.  Wind farms demand significant real estate are to be built far from urban centers in remote areas where land is cheap and available. What one needs to be careful is to avoid constant congestion and containment issues.  Financers wish to ensure that these projects are viable and are risk free.  Increased network also has to take into account storage facility without burdening the existing network lest the energy could be wasted.  The task, demands clear understanding among all the players – policy developers, producers and executioners. The routing and end users are very vital in the executions of such a magnitude to match the demand and production.  Competitive Renewable Energy Zones need be identified and planned meticulously to ensure risk free distribution. The ultimate goal should take into consideration the recovery of the investment in adding new transmission and distribution lines.  Public Utility Commission may help in this regard to identify areas of development and construction of new lines.

Ultimately, what is very important is to strategize energy generation of the existing and additional renewable planned

Well in US if you look age of existing infrastructure you have already 30% of the lines being changed on top of new lines to connect new generation, difficult to connect more than 500gw in few years

When you look at the pace of renewable construction especially now that the offshore effort is kicking into high gear in the northeast, transmission improvements are lagging. A significant amount of the transmission out there now is in the 50 to 60 year old range from the great build out when load growth was 10% a year and nuclear plants were envisioned all over the grid. Much of that equipment is in dire need of upgrade especially the transformers. The industry as a whole is behind the curve on upgrading older facilities. There's also a clear need for new transmission to integrate the signific significant number of renewables planned as part of the decarbonization effort. I think if you talk to most of the transmission planners, they have a pretty good handle on what needs to be built but then the wheels fall off the cart. Between the complications introduced by FERC Order 1000 and trying to figure out who and what exactly can be built, getting  the necessary siting and permitting, getting Wall Street to provide the necessary financial to support to build something, and then finally overcoming the general public NIMBY/BANANA, it is incredibly difficult to build any new facilities these days.

The problem is bottlenecks, a lack of sufficient transmission, a lack of modernized upgrades, of funding? That's one way to look at it.

I don't think it's that complicated. I see a transmission grid that is extremely successful at the job it was designed to perform - providing reliable, economical electricity to all members of society.

Maybe the problem isn't the transmission grid, but unpredictable, unreliable, diffuse, renewable energy. I know that interpretation is unpopular, but solar panels and wind turbines aren't accomplishing much of anything - and if we cart them off to the landfill, all the other problems go away.

Please check out:

Currently, approximately 65% of all electricity generated in the U.S. relies on fossil fuels - responsible for over 1.7 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions every year. To reduce this number to ZERO by 2035, approximately 53 GW of new carbon-free generation will need to be added to the grid every year for the next 14 years (not including additional generation resources needed to meet growing electrical demand in other sectors, including transportation). Unfortunately, the existing electric power grid is aged, inefficient, constrained and in many cases congested – meaning that it is unable to access cleaner generation resources. And, the current process for interconnecting large amounts of generation capacity is broken. Siting new transmission lines is nearly impossible and, if it can be done, the process can take a decade or more, which does not support the 2035 goal of ZERO-carbon emission in the electric sector. This is why we need to upgrade as many existing lines as possible using modern conductors such as ACCC. I can offer 1,000 examples where this has worked so far in 60 countries, including the U.S. 


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