Preparing the Grid for Renewable Energy

Preparing the Grid for Renewable Energy

June 9, 2014

Why the Power Grid Needs Renewable Energy

We in the electrical transmission business have our work cut out for us in 2014, according to an article published by Renewable Energy World, as the industry works to prepare the power grid for renewable energy.

Our infrastructure faces multiple challenges with a fragile transmission grid, threats to its stability and rising costs of electricity. Hope for the future lies with fiber-optics and smart grids, which will allow it to improve operations, increase revenue, decrease emissions and provide more consistent service to customers. While slow to be adopted nationwide, fiber-optic networks and smart grids will also increase the security of the grid, a critical consideration for us all.

Interest in making the country’s power grid system ready for renewable energy is fueled by mandates in 29 of the nation’s states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, designed to target reduction in carbon emissions. California leads the country in its requirement that 33 percent of its electricity be renewable by 2020.

Is the Price too High?

However, according to Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Energy Policy, “There is growing evidence that the costs may be too high — that the price tag for purchasing renewable energy, and for building new transmission lines to deliver it, may not only outweigh any environmental benefits but may also be detrimental to the economy, costing jobs rather than adding them.”

Other issues in contention include technical problems at nuclear power plants and expected losses of the nation’s coal-generated power, which has historically been among the least expensive sources of electricity. Natural gas is replacing coal-generated power, but the volatile nature of the cost of natural gas raises concern among many.

As reported by Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times, “Plans to export massive amounts of liquefied natural gas, the rapid construction of gas-fired power plants and the growing trend to convert the U.S. heavy truck fleet to natural gas could exert even more upward pressure on prices.”

Regardless, the momentum for including renewable energy sources as part of the load carried by the nation’s power grid is increasing, although the technology to make this possible is moving at a slower pace than many believe ideal.

Making Renewable Energy Accessible

According to Renewable Energy World, several major transmission projects are underway in the U.S. to move renewables from remote places to heavily populated regions. They cite projects in the Northeast that are moving hydropower from Canada to New York City, and from Canada into Southern New England, as well as offshore projects, and wind power projects in the West and Midwest.

The Edison Electric Institute has identified 150 transmission projects valued at $51.1 billion that are planned for the U.S. by 2023. Approximately 76 percent of the planned projects support integration of renewable energy.

Future Expansion

What does the future hold? Industry experts predict the expansion of renewable energy will continue and will dictate the direction of power grid expansion.