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Our Saving Grace

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jan 26, 2022

It’s no secret that the United States lags behind when it comes to transmission development. Cumbersome regulation and NIMBYISM have led to what feels like a standstill in the segment over the past decade. With respect to ultrahigh-voltage lines, we really have been at a standstill. In an Atlantic article last year, it was pointed out that: ““Since 2009, China has built more than 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission lines. The U.S. has built zero.” 

Our transmission woes have been compounded by a rapid renewable buildout. It’s an unfortunate matter of fact that most renewable rich parts of the country are far away from the big metropolitan areas that need most energy. As a result, costs to transport electricity have gone way up, while generation gets cheaper and cheaper. This was explained in a recent post at 

“the costs of the infrastructure needed to deliver power rose from 2.6cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to 4.3 cents per kWh in 2020 — nearly equal to the cost of generating the power itself. Delivery costs have in fact been rising steadily since 1998, according to the EIA — an outgrowth of the need for new grid infrastructure to replace aging lines and equipment and accommodate new wind and solar power farms, as well as for new technologies such as smart meters to modernize the utility system. And according to multiple studies, the U.S. will need much bigger grid investments in future years to accommodate the massive growth in renewable energy that will be required to decarbonize the power sector.”

However, recent developments in the industry might just save the country from what seemed like an inevitable transmission wreckoning. Over the past couple years, a litany of states and utilities have warmed to the idea of nuclear energy. This was highlighted in an AP article last week: 

“An Associated Press survey of the energy policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that a strong majority— about two-thirds— say nuclear, in one fashion or another, will help take the place of fossil fuels. That momentum could lead to the first expansion of nuclear reactor construction in the U.S. in more than three decades.

Roughly one-third of the states and the District of Columbia say they have no plans to incorporate nuclear power in their green energy goals, instead leaning heavily on renewables. They pointed to advances in energy storage using batteries, investments in the grid for high-voltage interstate transmission, energy efficiency efforts to reduce demand and power provided by hydroelectric dams.”

Nuclear, of course, is not as transmission needy as renewables. Quite the opposite. If a big nuclear rollout really does materialize, how much infrastructure reform will we need? Still a lot, but less.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2022

"If a big nuclear rollout really does materialize, how much infrastructure reform will we need? Still a lot, but less."

Possibly less than you might think, Henry. The existing grid is built with radial topology - the most efficient topology, among many, for distributing the supply of a resource from a central location to outlying areas. Examples abound in industry (package delivery services and cellphone networks are two), and in nature (the human circulatory system, the branches of a tree).
Attempting to distribute supply from outlying areas to other outlying areas on radial networks is problematic. When existing capacity is insufficient on an electrical grid, automatic switching software attempts to re-route electricity through alternate paths. Known as binding grid constraints, these limitations are inviolable. Overvoltage events caused by unexpected, excessive generation would quickly result in $millions in damage to grid hardware without them.
Adding generation from a nuclear plant to an existing grid is typically limited to construction of high-voltage transmission to the grid's central backbone. Though for many other reasons U.S. grids need upgrading, in most cases the corridors and towers are already in place.

Henry Craver's picture
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