New transmission lines from the Midwest would help the eastern half of the United States cut carbon emissions and power costs, while meeting its potential to supply 30% of its electricity needs with solar and wind, according to a new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
The report addresses the big remaining obstacle to widespread use of renewable electricity, Midwest Energy News reports: “getting the best wind resource from the Midwest to the East, where the power is needed.”
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“We have to make sure we have a transmission system that allows us to make use of that potential,” policy program associate Lu Nelson of Nebraska’s Center for Rural Affairs told MWEN. “If you like renewable energy, you have to consider transmission as part of the puzzle.”
The NREL team looked at two scenarios in which wind and solar supplied 30% of the eastern region’s electricity. One of the scenarios, in which the east drew 20% of its power from wind and 10% from solar, relied on nearby generators with less reliable wind regimes than those in the Midwest. The system incurred higher costs by overbuilding generation capacity and ramping fossil plants up and down more often.
The second scenario, based on 25% wind and 5% solar, required six new long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines from North and South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota to Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia. That option produced US$1 billion in annual fuel savings compared to the first scenario and cut carbon emissions by 33%, rather than 31%.
While new transmission lines are bound to run into planning and approval roadblocks, Nelson said long-distance access will set the pace of the transition to low-carbon electricity.
“Renewables develop where there is capacity to add them to the grid,” he told MWEN’s Karen Uhlenhuth. “You can see new renewables being built: they follow the new transmission. If we’re limited in (that) capacity, we will be limited in our ability to build renewables in the future.”
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