America’s power grid has a $2 trillion problem

Bringing America to the goals of carbon-free electricity generation by 2035 and net-zero economy by 2050 with increased electric vehicle transportation and renewable energy installations will require massive investments in obsolete power transmission lines and the construction of thousands of kilometers of new lines. The undertaking is huge, and it is so huge not just because the price tag to make the US grid capable of running a net zero economy is estimated at a few trillions of dollars.

Permits, regulation and uncertainty about who is and should be in charge of the massive power grid transformation are also major barriers to the uptake of renewable energy generation and mass adoption of vehicles. electrical (VE).

The U.S. power grid is stretched as is, with disruptions and outages becoming more frequent in many areas where local network operators struggle to keep lights on during extreme winter weather or heat. These events would only become more frequent with climate change, such as the current early heat wave in Texas, which is testing ERCOT’s ability to withstand an increase in electricity demand.

In recent days, grid operators in a growing number of states have begun to warn of power shortages as grids cannot cope with the imbalance between demand and supply as they approach of summer. California warned last week that it would have to produce more electricity than it currently produces to avoid blackouts. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the nonprofit responsible for operating the power grid in 15 U.S. states and Manitoba, issued a warning about outages over the summer.

If the grids warn that they may not be able to meet an increase in electricity demand now, what would they do if renewables became the main source of electricity production (provided that the Biden administration’s goals of a carbon-free grid by 2035 and will 50% of all new vehicles sold in the United States in 2030 be filled with zero-emission vehicles)?

Of course, the network needs huge investments, researchers and analysts say.

For example, in a “high electrification” or E+ scenario, with buildings and transportation aggressively electrified so that 100% of cars are electric by 2050, America would need $360 billion invested. in transmission through 2030 and $2.4 trillion by 2050, Princeton University said in a late 2020 report.

Yet, it’s not just about the money, but many industry analysts and consultants say so too. Indeed, the United States currently lacks a national strategy that clearly defines the roles of policymakers, states, federal agencies, grid operators, and utilities in preparing the transmission system at the national level to cope. to an increase in renewable energy generation, demand for electric vehicle charging, and the drive to “electricize everything” at home.

“We really don’t have anyone in charge,” Rob Gramlich, president of Washington DC-based energy consultancy Grid Strategies LLC, told Reuters for a special report on the hurdles facing the US grid.

Related: Europe turns to African gas to reduce dependence on Russian imports

“Politics is a nightmare,” Alison Silverstein, an independent industry consultant and former senior adviser to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), told Reuters’ Tim McLaughlin.

The regulatory “nightmare” is complicating grid investments, which could delay much-needed updates to transmission infrastructure and further push back the timeline for clean energy goals, analysts say.

“The majority of the national grid is aging, with some components over a century old – well beyond their 50-year life expectancy – and others, including 70% of the T&D lines, are well into the second half. of their lifespan,” said the American. Society of Civil Engineers said in a report last year.

Expanding network capacity 2 to 5 times over current levels and transmission investments totaling up to $2.4 trillion present “multiple technical, economic and public policy challenges,” Jonathan M. Moch, postdoctoral fellow, and Henry Lee, director, Environment and Natural Resources Program of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in a policy brief in February 2022.

“First, there is a lack of coordination between regional and national transmission planning. Organizations responsible for regional transportation planning are often legally compelled to prioritize reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, building a new transmission requires an extensive siting and permitting process that can stretch over more than a decade and can put the goal of a carbon-free power grid by 2035 out of whack. of range,” Moch and Lee wrote.

According to Brattle Group consultants, cross-regional planning processes are inefficient. In a presentation prepared for the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity’s Building a Better Grid Initiative, Brattle said in March that “essentially no major inter-regional transmission projects have been planned and built over the of the last decade”.

US climate envoy John Kerry also admitted this at the CERAWeek conference in Houston in March:

“We can send a rover to Mars, but we can’t send an electron to California from New York.”

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

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