Understanding the transmission bottleneck

The lack of transmission could severely limit the energy transition. What can we do to fix it?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

The U.S. power grid is clogged, and it’s holding back the energy transition. 

Some solar and wind farms take as long as four years to connect to the grid. Rising congestion costs are driving up retail electricity prices and reducing the revenue of generators. And the process of approving projects for interconnection is so complicated and expensive that it’s forcing developers to abandon projects they were planning to build. 

We need much more transmission capacity and a better process for connecting projects. And we need it now more than ever. Demand for power will skyrocket as we connect EVs, heat pumps and other new loads to the grid. But Rob Gramlich, our guest today, comes with good news: We did it before. We can do it again. 

Rob is the founder and president of consultancy Grid Strategies. In this episode, Shayle and Rob talk through the three major challenges of transmission: congestion, interconnection and buildout. And Rob explains how we’ve built out transmission in the past with efforts such as ERCOT’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zones and MISO’s Multi-Value Projects.

They also cover topics including:

  • The history of transmission buildout in the U.S.

  • The three P’s of transmission challenges: planning, permitting and paying.

  • How congestion costs might shoot up over the next few years as grid capacity lags behind generation, slowing the addition of new generation to slow and causing retail electricity prices to go up.

  • Reforming the slow, complex and expensive approval process for interconnection at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

  • How the backed-up interconnection queue leads developers to submit speculative projects, such as filing six applications when they really only plan to build one project, just to see what they can get approved.

  • Where local opposition fits into transmission’s larger problems.

Recommended resources:

  • Grid Strategies: Transmission congestion costs in the U.S.’ regional transmission organizations

  • Grid Strategies: Fewer new miles: The U.S. transmission grid in the 2010s

  • Canary Media: Talking TransWest and grid transmission policy on the Weather Channel

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

Support for Catalyst comes from Climate Positive, a podcast by HASI that features candid conversations with the leaders, innovators and changemakers who are at the forefront of the transition to a sustainable economy. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Catalyst is supported by Scale Microgrids, the distributed energy company dedicated to transforming how modern energy infrastructure is designed, constructed and financed. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes it easy. Learn more at scalemicrogrids.com.