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Transmission Benefits and Challenges as More Renewables Come into Service

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The EIA predicts that another 29 GW of energy generating capacity is likely to be added to the US grid in the latter part of this year. 15 GW has already been added from January to June. 15.1 GW is planned to be retired this year, mostly GHG-emitting coal fired plants.

So there will be a net increase in capacity of about 14 GW by the end of 2022. What does this mean for the US transmission grid? Can it accommodate the extra power, supplied mainly by renewables? One of the problems of renewable energy is that the best sites tend to be a long way away from population centers where the electricity is needed. Wyoming and Quebec have excellent wind resources but long, preferably HVDC lines will be needed to bring that power to users.

 

Image: EIA

So the cost of the energy might be low if it is wind or solar, but the transmission costs might well be higher. This is an issue – there's going to have to be a careful balance between generation and transmission costs. Some analysts think that a goodly-sized network of microgrids will help even out the transmission flows, but others aren't so sure.

Smart grids will be needed to leverage the networked microgrids to manage demand. Heating and air conditioning equipment, EV chargers, and other appliances use significant amounts of electricity which could be turned off or turned down to help make sure there is enough electricity for critical systems like hospitals. If too many EVs are charging at the same moment, this is going to be a drain on the power system. Automated management of charging would mean lower prices for customers, while ensuring that charging is staggered throughout the night so there are no peak loads.

The Biden Administration unveiled an initiative in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law called Building a Better Grid, which is intended to address these serious issues, but will it be sufficient and timely in its interventions?

 

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Joshua Aldridge's picture
Joshua Aldridge on Aug 18, 2022

Great article! In my opinion one of the key concepts you addressed was that of "automated management," that one is crucial. An effective smart grid is one that limits non-participants and free riders by automating actions for those who agree to participate. The problem is...getting participants to agree to such under the current construct of credits and paybacks. The solution...modify agreements to equitably address the value of capacity and congestion mitigation. When participants can see the their actions repaid equitably based on times when energy costs are the highest, rather than the traditional model of pennies on the dollar, the incentive to allow automated control will be a non-issue. 

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