Getting more energy on the wires

Lack of transmission is a massive bottleneck for the energy transition. How do we fix it?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Want to build a power plant in the U.S.? Here are three things to know. 

First, connecting a wind farm, utility-scale battery or another big source of power to the grid means getting in line. A typical project’s wait time for interconnection increased from around two years in 2005 to four years in 2020, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

Second, the interconnection queue is quite a crowded place. In 2020, there were 1.44 terawatts’ worth of projects in the queue. That’s more than the U.S.’ entire current generation fleet.

Third, dropouts are the norm. Only 25% of planned projects make it to completion. Projects withdraw from the queue for lots of reasons, but wait times are a big factor. During long waits, negotiations can fall apart and rights can expire, reports Emma Penrod of Utility Dive.

Why the bottleneck and long queues? Lack of transmission is the single biggest factor. We need way more of it to bring power from rural areas with rich wind and solar potential to power-hungry population centers. But NIMBYism and complex permitting processes have slowed the construction of new transmission to a glacial pace. So what are the solutions?

In this episode, guest host Lara Pierpoint talks to Liza Reed, electricity transmission research manager for climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. She’s also a grid fellow at Prime Movers Lab.

Lara and Liza explore ways to expand transmission capacity. Options include:

  • Replacing steel-reinforced lines with composite-core lines to carry more energy, a process known in the industry as reconductoring.”
  • High-voltage direct-current lines capable of sending lots of power across long distances, which can be run underground along existing rights of way, such as highways.
  • High-temperature superconductors, which cool wires to allow them to carry more power.
  • Line-monitoring technology that analyzes local weather, wind and other factors to detect which lines are cooler than expected, allowing grid operators to send extra power through them. 
  • Improving grid studies that determine what kinds of upgrades are needed for interconnection.
  • Federal permitting reform, which could allow more new transmission to be built.

Recommended resources:

  • Utility Dive: Why the energy transition broke the U.S. interconnection system
  • Volts Podcast: Transmission month: everything in one place
  • Canary Media: Manchin’s permitting-reform bill splits Dems, pro-renewables groups
  • Canary Media: New software can find more room for clean energy on transmission grids
  • Canary Media: FERC has a new plan to connect clean energy to the grid more quickly

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Catalyst is supported by Scale Microgrid Solutions, your comprehensive source for all distributed energy financing. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes financing it easy. Visit scalecapitalsolutions.com to learn more.

Catalyst is supported by CohnReznick, a trusted partner for navigating the complex and evolving financial, tax and regulatory landscape of the renewable sector. Visit cohnreznick.com to learn more.