Opinion: Building an Interstate System to Move Electricity Could Cost $ 50 Billion, or Less Than the Freeze and Power Outages Cost Users in Texas

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Many types of extreme events can interrupt electricity service, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, extreme cold, and prolonged droughts. Major disasters can leave thousands of people in the dark. The Great Texas Freeze in February wiped out 40% of the state’s power generation capacity. During such events, unaffected regions may have power to spare. For example, during the February blackouts in Texas, utilities generated electricity from hydroelectric power in the Pacific Northwest, natural gas in the Northeast, wind in the North Plains, and solar in the Southwest.

Today, electricity cannot be smoothly moved from one end of the U.S. to the other. But for the past decade, researchers from national laboratories and universities have been working closely with industry engineers to design an electrical system. interstate that can do it. And President Biden‘s infrastructure plan would move in this direction by allocating billions of dollars to build high-voltage transmission lines that can “move cheaper and cleaner electricity to where it is needed most.” My research in engineering focuses on electrical power systems. At Iowa State University, we have worked to quantify the benefits that macrogrids can bring to the US These high-capacity transmission systems interconnect energy resources and areas of high demand for electricity, known as load centers, in large regions. geographic. A National Highway System for Electricity Dwight Eisenhower had been thinking of a national interstate highway system for decades before taking office in 1953. Eisenhower argued that such a system was “as necessary for defense as it is for our national economy and personal safety. “Congress agreed to and passed the Federal Aid Highways Act of 1956, which authorized the federal government to pay 90% of the cost of this $ 114 billion system, with the states covering the rest. Eisenhower was concerned about the evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear war. The security argument for a macrogrid focuses on extreme events that disrupt the power grid. And the economic argument centers on moving wind, solar and hydraulic energy from areas where they are abundant to areas with high energy demand.

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“A macrogrid would use different peak demand periods to reduce electricity costs. ”

Today, the North American power grid consists of five networks, also known as interconnects. Two large, the East and West interconnections, cover most of the lower 48 states and large swaths of Canada, while three smaller networks serve Texas, Alaska, and northern Quebec. Each of these networks uses alternating current, or AC, to move electricity from generators to customers. The East, West, and Texas interconnections are connected by high-voltage direct current, or HVDC, lines that allow power transmission between them. These facilities are aging and can only transfer small amounts of electricity between networks. One way to think of a macrogrid is as an overlay that links existing US grids together and facilitates the movement of energy between them. Sharing power across regions President Biden has proposed radical action to achieve a clean energy transition in the US, including making electric power carbon-free by 2035. This will require adding a large amount of new renewable generation capacity for the next 15 years. The costs of wind and solar energy have dropped dramatically in recent years. Today, energy from new large-scale wind or solar plants is cheaper than electricity from existing coal plants. However, renewables provide only about 21% of the electricity in the US A macrogrid would lower the cost of electricity from new wind and solar plants in two ways. First, it would allow high-quality renewable energy, primarily wind power from the Midwest and solar from the south, and potentially Canadian hydropower, to supply coastal load centers. It is cheaper to build transmission systems that can move this energy long distances than to generate it from weaker and lower quality wind and solar resources closer to cities. Second, a macro-grid would allow the sharing of energy production and grid services between regions. This strategy takes advantage of time differences due to time zones and the fact that electricity demand tends to peak at certain times of the day, such as when people come home at night. And electricity prices go up and down during the day with demand. For example, at 3 p.m. Pacific time, the demand for power is relatively low on the West Coast, which means that the cost of that electricity is also low. The excess western electricity could be used to supply demand on the east coast, which peaks every day at the same time as this west coast “low” at 3 pm, which occurs at 6 pm eastern time. . Four hours later, when the west coast reaches its daily peak at 7 p.m. Pacific time, it would be 10 p.m. on the east coast, which would have an extra generation to share going west. Shared capacity also works because peak annual power demand occurs at different times of the year for different regions. Each region is required to have access to sufficient generation capacity to meet its maximum annual load, with a certain margin to cover generation failures. A macrogrid would allow regions to share excess generation capacity when it is not needed locally. This strategy provides benefits even when the annual peaks in two regions differ by only a few days. When they differ by weeks or months, the payoff can be great. For example, power demand in the Pacific Northwest typically peaks in winter, so the region could borrow capacity from the Southwest and Midwest, where demand peaks in summer, and vice versa. Building Transmission Saves Money In a study I published in 2020 with academic and industry colleagues, we showed that without a macrogrid it would cost more than $ 2.2 trillion from 2024 to 2038 to develop and operate the nation’s electric power system and achieve a 50% renewable energy generation in 2038. This includes the costs of adding 600 gigawatts of new generation capacity that would be almost entirely wind and solar; operating costs of the remaining fossil and nuclear power plants; and the construction of new AC transmission lines to connect new power plants to customers. However, we estimate that if the US spent $ 50 billion to develop a macrogrid, the total long-term cost of developing and operating the nation’s electric power system and achieving 50% renewable electricity by 2038 would decrease by more than $ 50 billion. In other words, by making it possible to share energy between regions and deliver high-quality renewable energy from remote areas to load centers, the macro-grid would pay for itself. Some observers may worry that a nationwide connected network is more vulnerable to cascading blackouts than our existing system. In fact, a macrogrid would be more reliable because HVDC provides greater network control capability through its flexible converter stations. Industry leaders and clean energy advocates are calling on the US to pursue macro-grid development. But North America is lagging behind most of the world in developing interregional power lines to harness low-cost clean energy resources. And if $ 50 billion sounds like a big investment, consider this: It’s also the estimated minimum cost of power outages and spikes during the Texas deep freeze. Also Read: After Power Outages End, Texas Must Debate Its Electricity Independence AND: ‘The Sheer Volume Of Claims Is Extraordinary’ – Texans Pay A Lot For Insurance, But Will That Help You Now? James D. McCalley is professor of electrical engineering at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. This was first published by The Conversation: “USA. “It needs a macrogrid to move electricity from the areas that reach the areas that need it.”