Aug
31
2008

Proposed power grid for wind and solar: clipped from American Electric Power document
Proposed power grid for wind and solar: clipped from American Electric Power documentCourtesy U. S. Dept. of Energy

Is our power grid ready for wind and solar?

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal show promise for breaking our addiction to oil. One big problem, though, is moving this new energy to energy users. According to a recent New York Times article,

many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them.

The grid today is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Upgrading our power grid faces multiple obstacles

Our power grid, with about 200,000 miles of power lines, is divided among about 500 owners. Upgrading transmission lines often involves multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Property owners often fight new power lines saying "not in my back yard".

"Modernizing the electric infrastructure is an urgent national problem, and one we all share,” said Kevin M. Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, in a speech last year.

Dept. of Energy recommendation

I recommend reading the Department of Energy report titled, "20% wind energy by 2030" (30 pg pdf). The United Sates plans to add 300 GW of wind power by 2030 (I figure that equals about 200,000 1.5 MW wind generators). They recommend an interstate power grid to carry electricity similar to how our interstate highway system carries cars and trucks.

American Electric Power also has recommendations

In an 8 page pdf document titled, "Interstate Transmission Vision for Wind Integration" American Electric Power, working at the request of, and in partnership with, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), presents a "high-level, conceptual interstate transmission plan that could provide a basis for discussion to expand industry infrastructure needs in the future".

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Ted's picture
Ted says:

Interesting article about the grid's shortcomings with respect to new wind farms. The thing is that when new wind turbines are built the energy they produce offsets energy that would have otherwise been produced by peak load natural gas turbines (when enough are built) - so there isn't always an immediate surplus in energy. As the demand for energy increases whether it be provided by wind turbines or coal power plants we're are going to reach limitations.

One thing you can do is encourage (with subsidies) the construction of wind turbines and solar panels in peoples' own backyards to the energy generated is already next to its end source. You can also purchase renewable energy credits derived from sources where the transmission grid is plenty robust. Check out this page for a great intro to "Energy Seals" which use voluntary renewable energy credits to effectively power laptops with wind energy: www.poweredgreen.com. Very cool. Thanks for the great article!

posted on Mon, 09/01/2008 - 11:15am

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