The electricity system regulator in the United States could help slash inflation and double the country’s renewable energy supply by encouraging technologies to reduce the “absurd” 3.5-year wait times delaying interconnections between regional power systems, the Rocky Mountain Institute argues in a new analysis.
“Inflation-busting technologies” like wind, solar, and energy storage can “help stabilize domestic energy prices and prevent future price spikes due to a reliance on volatile international fuel markets,” RMI analysts Russell Mendell, Mathias Einberger, and Katie Siegner argue in a recent blog post. “However, clogged interconnection queues pose an increasing challenge for renewable energy developers, slowing the integration of clean and cheap resources onto the grid.”
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The authors point to more than 1,000 gigawatts (that’s one thousand billion watts) of solar and wind capacity and 400 GW of storage that are “awaiting construction once they can procure transmission capacity to bring the electricity to market.” Those projects represent “roughly 10 times the deployed capacity of solar PV and 60 times the deployed battery storage capacity on the grid today.”
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has invited public comment on a new rule that could begin to tackle that problem, write Mendell, Einberger, and Siegner. “But to make significant headway, FERC needs to go further,” they write. That would mean speeding the introduction of grid-enhancing technologies (GETs) that can alleviate grid congestion “by optimizing the transfer capacity of existing power lines—thereby opening the door for more renewables to connect to the grid.”
The RMI blog post explains three specific grid techniques—dynamic line ratings, advanced power flow controls, and topology optimization—that would amount to “an energy efficiency retrofit for the grid,” costing less and taking less time to complete than expensive new transmission lines. By freeing up existing grid capacity, the various approaches would get more renewables in production faster and save ratepayers money, the authors say.
So far, FERC wants grid transmission providers to consider GETs as an alternative to traditional grid upgrades if a customer asks them to. A more complete approach, already proposed by one advocacy coalition, “is to require transmission operators to install GETs if the operators’ internal analysis shows that benefits outweigh the costs. Cost-benefit analysis could be required not only if requested by an interconnection customer, but also for regular operations and long-term planning.”
RMI says there are other options, as well, for quickly freeing up grid capacity. And the three authors stress the urgency of getting on with the job. While new long-range transmission lines will be “essential for the United States to meet clean energy goals,” they write, FERC also “has an opportunity to help bring down energy costs in the near term by unlocking the potential of domestic renewable energy resources.”
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