The growth of clean energy is only going to continue, driven by state renewable energy goals and customer demand, creating the need for an extensive transmission grid build-out so resources can reach load pockets, panelists said during a Feb. 3 webinar.
Even without state or federal mandates, the industry itself is moving to cleaner energy, said Larry Gasteiger, executive director of WIRES, an international trade association that promotes investment in the high-voltage grid.
"The issue of building out the grid is not only a timely one, it's one we'll be dealing with for years to come," Gasteiger said during a webinar sponsored by Power Markets Today, adding that transmission projects require an average of 10 years to complete. "Transmission is becoming sexy. It's clear these issues are on the cutting edge."
The clean energy transition is driving the need for more transmission since most large-scale renewable resources are not located near load centers.
States are increasing pressure for more renewables — 38 states have some sort of renewable energy or emissions reduction goal — and at the federal level, the Biden administration has a plan of achieving carbon-free energy by 2035.
The clean energy trend will not slow down, Gasteiger said, citing the long-term electrification of the economy with the increased use of electric vehicles as well as policy measures to promote the use of electricity over natural gas.
Today's grid cannot keep up with demand
"The bottom line is, if you love renewables, you've got to love transmission because you won't meet these clean energy goals without it," Gasteiger said. "Most people are convinced transmission has to be part of the solution. That really means time is of the essence. With the goals being set, we're already behind."
Across the U.S., 734 GW of generation is stuck in interconnection queues, and 90% is renewable, but the current grid does not have the capability to move all of the new generation coming online, said Jay Caspary, vice president at Grid Strategies, a power sector consulting firm.
Also, more than 32 GW of offshore wind generation is planned in the U.S., mostly in the Northeast, noted Theodore Paradise, senior vice president at Anbaric Development Partners LLC, which specializes in early-stage development of large-scale electric transmission and storage solutions.
"We know the numbers are going to be much larger than that," Paradise said. "You're starting to talk about a lot of transmission, and how you do that transmission really matters."
The majority of solar generation is in the southern states stretching from California to South Carolina, while the majority of wind generation is in the center of the country stretching from Texas to the Canadian border.
In the Southwest Power Pool footprint, where wind generation set a U.S. record at 32% of the total fuel mix in 2020, 83.5 GW is in the interconnection queue and 99% is renewables, said Daniel Hall, central region director of electricity and transmission at American Clean Power Association, a trade group focused on renewables. In the Midcontinent ISO region, 91.6 GW is in the interconnection queue, of which 93% is renewables.
"The generators are looking to connect to the grid, but are in need of transmission to do so," Hall said. "We are now at a breaking point at the interconnection process on the seam."
Looking for solutions
SPP and MISO have initiatives underway to address transmission expansion along the seams between the two footprints, where transmission is at capacity.
Other seams and corridors have seen significant changes in flow dynamics. For example, the direct-current tie between California and the Pacific Northwest now serves an important function of moving hydro generation south at night and solar generation north during the day, Caspary noted.
Paradise pointed to the competitive renewable energy zones in Texas, which enabled 18.5 GW of wind to get from where it is produced to where it is needed, as an example of the types of transmission development needed across the country.
The current grid faces resilience issues, such as an aging system that was built in the 1950s and 1960s, cybersecurity threats and extreme weather events, with increased hurricane activity in the eastern part of the U.S. and increased wildfires in the West, Gasteiger said.
"We need to get it right to deal with all our needs and climate change," Caspary said. The last Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy to address transmission was Order 1000 in 2011.
"We need a comprehensive FERC planning rule to establish basic guidelines for transmission planning processes to ensure they meet future needs," Caspary said. "Let's make reasonable assumptions for resources like we make reasonable assumptions for loads."
Kassia Micek is a reporter for S&P Global Platts. S&P Global Market Intelligence and S&P Global Platts are owned by S&P Global Inc.