The electric grid in the United States, originally designed to accommodate coal and gas plants, is now hindering efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Using the vast wind and solar energy resources in the nation could significantly reduce emissions and provide low-cost electricity for homes, vehicles, and factories. However, the best locations for wind and solar energy are often far from cities and the existing grid.
In light of the US government’s goal of achieving 100 percent clean electricity generation by 2035, the current transmission system falls short. The transmission capacity must more than double within a decade to meet the ambitious target. Hardly any new high-voltage transmission lines have been built in the US since 2000.
Building such extensive transmission lines faces significant challenges. These include complex permitting processes and opposition from local communities.
A major obstacle stems from the lack of a centralized entity responsible for organizing the grid. There’s no renewable energy equivalent to the Interstate Highway System, the national system of freeways created by President Eisenhower in the 1950s.
Many of the proposed clean energy projects are facing delays and increased costs due to insufficient transmission capacity.
Existing power lines often struggle to deliver electricity from renewable projects to areas of high demand. This leads to congestion and reliance on more expensive fossil fuel plants nearby. It also jeopardizes grid reliability, especially in the face of extreme weather events.
To address these issues, substantial upgrades and improvements to the grid are required. The Department of Energy and the Biden administration have granted some new powers to override objections from state regulators. However, resistance from utilities and certain lawmakers remains. These interest groups fear the potential disruption to local monopolies and states’ rights, respectively.
Initiatives to use energy more efficiently, such as incentives for off-peak EV charging, could alleviate some of the pressure on the grid. Nevertheless, it’s clear that significant investment in long-distance transmission lines is essential to achieving the nation’s climate and energy goals.
Without substantial progress in this area, the US may need to rely on more expensive measures to reduce emissions, such as advanced nuclear or gas plants with carbon capture technology. In the future, the grid is expected to play an even more central role in the nation’s energy system.
In light of this information, it’s clear that infrastructure woes threaten America’s clean energy transition.