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Solving the 'chicken and the egg' problem of enhanced generation and robust transmission capacity

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent, Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
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  • Nov 18, 2020

In a recently published, in-depth white paper, the Business Network of Offshore Wind pulls research and case studies together to try and give recommendations on how the U.S. offshore wind industry would handle the "chicken and the egg" problem of enhancing electricity generation and building greater transmission capacity. The report states that the offshore wind questions plaguing the East Coast are the same questions faced by regions and countries that have wanted to integrate remotely generated energy from renewable sources.

The report says the east coast of the U.S. faces some hurdles with offshore wind if it cannot put together a robust, interregional energy transmission plan. The Business Network of Offshore Wind offers six recommendations in developing such a strategy:

  • Integrated transmission should weigh all benefits
  • Transmission planning should incorporate public policy requirements
  • Plan proactively
  • Plan for a longer time horizon
  • Quantify all benefits
  • Better synchronize inter-regional planning  

According to the report, there is no centralized effort focused on the transmission requirements of a strong offshore wind power market on the east coast U.S., but that state governments, the U.S. Dept. of Energy and U.S. Congress could and should collaborate. 

"The U.S. Department of Energy, along with national energy laboratories, could collaborate with FERC to fill this gap and provide technical research and play a critical convening role with stakeholders across states and RTOs," the report said. "Potential studies include analyzing the benefits of different scales and configurations of transmission expansion, quantifying how expanded transmission can reduce capacity and energy costs by capturing inter-regional diversity in electricity supply and demand, and finding solutions that minimize the total cost of onshore and offshore transmission."

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 18, 2020

This is a great example of where uncertainty in the investing environment because of yo-yoing policies make it more difficult for big players to make the significant capital investments that would be required. Great point that it's up to the federal government to step in here and ensure stakeholders can have confidence in the future environment for these projects

Ansh Nasta's picture
Ansh Nasta on Nov 19, 2020

I agree with you on that. However, given the volatility at FERC right now, combined with the results of the election, I do not expect much progress on this at the federal level.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 19, 2020

That's fair, Ansh. It's too bad-- the states have done well in the past several years at taking the lead, but the resultant patchwork is obviously sub-optimal and a unified national approach would be so much preferable. But at least we do have the backstop of state leadership until the federal government is ready to step up to the challenge

Ansh Nasta's picture
Ansh Nasta on Nov 20, 2020

Yeah the piecemeal approach won't be efficient. On the other side of the Atlantic, you have a continental organization of dozens of countries that just released an Offshore Strategy together, while here it's the opposite.

John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Nov 19, 2020

To be quite frank when I look at the 6 bullets in the articale, the planners used to do things like that back in the vertically integrated days.  Sorry just a bit nostalgic LOL.

John Patrick Rakoto's picture
John Patrick Rakoto on Nov 23, 2020

I believe the best approach would to create a think tank with all the states involved including the governors, the CEO of the companies, and a representative of the investor group hold a teleconference hash out all the pros, cons and do a cost/benefit analysis then move from a draft proposal then finalize a working contract.  Action must happen on a state/corp level before the fed government can be involved. Who will be ready willing and able to organize this?

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 23, 2020

Getting all those different stakeholders to agree and come to a consensus or agree to go with what the group thinks to be best would be a tall order though-- those actors should certainly play key roles in the debates, but it's hard to see collective action taking place without a true top-down approach

Mark Howitt's picture
Mark Howitt on Nov 26, 2020

There's a simple solution to this that's commercially profitable and therefore needs no state / federal intervention: connecting through large-scale long-duration electricity storage. With it, you could connect (say) 300MW wind through a 100-150MW grid connection (or 600-800MW solar through the same). Put another way, if you already have renewable generation with a grid connection, you can greatly increase the amount of renewables connected through it.

This reduces the capex (grid connection and reinforcement) costs owing to the reduced grid connection size, and eliminates both the opex (annual grid access charges) and trading (levies and charges per MWh) as the storage would bear those. Correspondingly the storage would eliminate its grid connection capex by piggy-backing on the reduced-size grid connection, and eliminate the levies and charges element of the price of the electricity it buys: win-win. And there's a third win: all large-scale long-duration storage is naturally inertial, and Storelectric's can deliver this natural inertia (and related voltage/frequency regulation, reactive power/load, phase-locked loop protection etc.) 24/7, greatly enhancing grid stability. Win-win-win.

For the time being it's confined to using salt caverns (many locations around large swathes of N America, Europe and world-wide); when the first few are built, other geologies will be developed too.

For more information, see Developing Projects on Weak and Saturated Grids

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