New Renewable Transmission Can Bring a CO2 Free Economy

March 29, 2016


We can do this.


Analysts have long argued that nations aiming to use wind and solar power to curb emissions from fossil fuel burning would first have to invest heavily in new technologies to store electricity produced by these intermittent sources—after all, the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing. But a study out today suggests that the United States could, at least in theory, use new high-voltage power lines to move renewable power across the nation, and essentially eliminate the need to add new storage capacity.

This improved national grid, based on existing technologies, could enable utilities to cut power-sector carbon dioxide emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2030 without boosting power prices, researchers report today in Nature Climate Change.


A $2.5-billion transmission line carrying wind power to the U.S. Southeast is coming — whether state regulators there like it or not.

On Friday, the U.S. Energy Department used a decade-old statute to clear Clean Line Energy Partners LLC’s 705-mile (1,134-kilometer) power line for construction over any objections from the states involved.

The Energy Department’s approval of the line, proposed to carry 4,000 megawatts of power from the wind-rich Oklahoma panhandle through Arkansas and into Tennessee, marks the first time the 2005 statute has been used to bypass state approval and push through an interstate transmission project.

“Moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is in high demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement. “Building modern transmission that delivers renewable energy to more homes and businesses will create jobs, cut carbon emissions, and enhance the reliability of our grid.”

The approval highlights a potential workaround for some U.S. transmission developers who have for years dealt with regulatory delays and roadblocks at the state level while trying to site new power lines. The statute gave the Energy Department authority to clear interstate projects co-sponsored by either of two of its four public power agencies. It’s just the latest twist in the battle over transmission siting between state and federal agencies as U.S. regulators push for stronger, multi-state lines capable of moving renewable power to where it’s needed.

New York Times:

“Moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is in high demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary, said in a statement. “Building modern transmission that delivers renewable energy to more homes and businesses will create jobs, cut carbon emissions and enhance the reliability of our grid.”

Clean Line Energy Partners will still need to acquire land where the line would cross. The federal government said it could use eminent domain if negotiations failed, under a thus-far unused provision of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Energy officials have been urging significant extensions and upgrades to the nation’s transmission system for years but there has been little new construction since the 1980s. And although the push to enhance the grid has gained urgency as renewables have spread, thousands of miles of long-haul lines have not yet gained approval.

Allowing the project, called Plains and Eastern, to go ahead could encourage the spread of low-carbon electricity and increase system reliability at a reasonable cost to consumers, the department said.

Michael Skelly, the president of Clean Line, said, “We are encouraged by the strong market demand for low-cost, clean energy and anticipate that interest will only increase now that the project has this essential approval in place.”

Nature Climate Change: Future Cost Competitive Electicity Systems and their Impact on US CO2 Emissions

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment ofwind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculatethe cost-optimized configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial (13-km) andtemporal (60-min) resolution over the contiguous US.
Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission.

8 Responses to “New Renewable Transmission Can Bring a CO2 Free Economy”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    Wow! That’s pretty big news and kudos to the authors – this represents a lot of work. With all the hoop-la about rooftop, it is important that people realize that our future energy needs can not even be close to being met by rooftop PV, and larger-scale projects, removed quite far away from where the electricity will actually be consumed, will provide the bulk of our energy.

    That HVDC and an improved grid can provide constant power at low cost even with no storage is exciting news, news that has enormous implications for our infrastructure construction strategies.

    It will be interesting to see if HVDC lines can be buried in trenches to reduce costs even further, and to see what inroads can be made to increasing the cost-effectiveness and life-span of the expensive peripheral electronic equipment needed for HVDC. Right now, this is a nascent field, and the expensive peripherals (big-scale inverters, etc) need replacement every twenty years.

    This also has implications for the future of hydrogen production/storage on very small to very large scales, since the need for large-scale battery and kinetic storage seems to be reduced dramatically with this study.

    Peter had an interesting post recently about envisioning our energy future. For me, I think it is extremely important to envision a 100% renewable energy future where our infrastructure serves everyone, is owned by everyone, and whose guiding mission is to produce abundant power at the least possible cost. Roof-top PV has none of those values – but a publicly-owned renewable energy system that sites energy farms for maximum efficiency and then distributes that energy where and when it is needed does.

  2. miffedmax Says:

    So when the denial lobby said “not economically feasible” did they really mean “we’re blocking clean energy at the state level”?

  3. Another use of HVDC long distance transmission lines would be to make use of the enormous potential for steady base load power from Solar Thermal power plants with molten salt heat storage. The Southwestern states have potential for about 1,000 GW, using just a tiny percentage of the available and suitable land, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Power from the Sun Day and Night. Not intermittent. These solar plants can have comparatively high capacity factors of 45-70% according to NREL. Their estimate of potential for Arizona alone is 285 GW generating capacity. After adjusting for capacity factors, this is equivalent to 120 nuclear power plants or more, by my back of the envelope calculation.

    from NREL

    “Concentrating solar has promised big additions to renewable energy production with the additional benefit of energy storage — saving sun power for nighttime”

    Nighttime power generation is hardly the only benefit of heat storage.

    Thermal Energy Storage (TES) and Solar Thermal power plants

    “Adding TES provides several additional sources of value to a CSP plant. First, unlike a plant that must sell electricity when solar energy is available, a CSP plant with TES can shift electricity production to periods of highest prices. Second, TES may provide firm capacity to the power system, replacing conventional power plants as opposed to just supplementing their output. Finally, the dispatchability of a CSP plant with TES can provide high-value ancillary services such as spinning reserves.”

    Solar thermal and heat storage

    “Profit Maximization
    Energy storage allows the plant operator to maximize profits. During periods of low hourly power prices, the operator can forgo generation and dump heat into storage; and at times of high prices, the plant can run at full capacity even without sun.

    Peak Shaving
    Solar generating capacity with heat storage can make other capacity in the market unnecessary. With heat storage the solar plant is able to ‘shave’ the peak load.

    Reducing Intermittence
    The ability of thermal solar plants to use heat energy storage to keep electric output constant: (1) reduces the cost associated with uncertainty surrounding power production; and (2) relieves concerns regarding electrical interconnection fees, regulation service charges, and transmission tariffs.

    Increasing Plant Utilization
    Solar plants equipped with heat storage have the ability to increase overall annual generation levels by ‘spreading out’ solar radiation to better match plant capacity.”

    Click to access owens_storage_value.pdf

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    Ummm… this post was about how long-distance lines can eliminate the need for storage technology. So, immediately, we start talking about storage technology?

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