There’s a fundamental disconnect in many consumers’ minds: on the one hand, they generally favor using more renewables to meet climate goals. On the other, they are wary about building infrastructure, particularly “in their backyard” — an obvious impediment to the expanded use of green energy.
Building energy infrastructure is a tricky business. Private entities have limited resources, and the payoff is often too distant. But the transmission grid is aging and needs to be updated and expanded to hit net-zero goals. But many communities don’t want ugly lines near them. Such expansion and modernization, however, would give utilities access to clean generation while helping increase the grid’s reliability.
“We’re looking at a significant expansion of the transmission system. A recent report indicates that it’s at least 60% growth by 2030. We might even need to triple our existing systems by 2050 to meet the larger growing clean electricity demands,” says Maria Robinson, director, grid employment office at the U.S. Department of Energy, who spoke at event hosted by the United States Energy Association in which this reporter served as a panelist.
She adds that most of the transformers — the device that transfers electric currents — on the transmission system are also at least 25 years old. They need replacing. Upgrading the grid is also an option — or adding new digital components so that the wires can become more efficient and carry more electrons. For example, CenterPoint EnergyCNP +3.6% Inc. and DTE EnergyDTE +1.8% Co. installed similar technologies to tell operators which units to run and where to avoid congestion.
Black & Veatch says that 60% of the country’s localized distribution lines are outdated. Brattle Group adds that $2 trillion is needed by 2030 to modernize the lines, noting that distributed energy resources can alleviate stress on the primary grid and meet 20% of peak load by 2030. “Reconductoring” is a solution — one of installing new conductor wires onto the existing transmission.
“We need these energy super highways. But in some cases, we’re just going to have to widen the existing road,” says Duane Highley, chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. “It’s an essential part of the solution.” That process takes 6 to 12 months, where building transmission takes years.
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