Want to build a power plant in the U.S.? Here are three things to know. 

First, connecting a wind farm, utility-scale battery, or other big source of power to the grid means getting in line. A typical project’s wait time has increased from around two years in 2005 to four years in 2020, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

Second, the interconnection queue is a crowded place. In 2020 there were 1.44 terawatts of projects in the queue. That’s more than the U.S.’s current fleet of generation.

Third, dropouts are the norm. Only 25% of projects make it to completion. Projects withdraw from the queue for lots of reasons, but wait times are a big factor. During long waits, negotiations can fall apart and rights can expire, reports Emma Penrod of Utility Dive.

Why the bottleneck and long queues? Lack of transmission is the single biggest factor. We need way more of it to bring power from rural areas with rich wind and solar potential to power-hungry population centers. But NIMBYism and a complex permitting process have slowed the construction of new transmission to a glacial pace. So what are the solutions?

In this episode, guest host Lara Pierpoint talks to Liza Reed, electricity transmission Research manager for climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a think tank in Washington D.C. She’s also a grid fellow at Prime Movers Lab.

Lara and Liza explore ways to expand transmission capacity:

  • Replacing steel-reinforced lines with composite-core lines to carry more energy, known in the industry as “reconductoring”
  • High-voltage direct current lines capable of sending lots of power long distances, which can be run underground along existing rights of way, such as highways
  • High temperature superconductors, which involve cooling wires down to carry more power
  • Line monitoring technology that analyzes local weather, wind and other factors to detect which lines are cooler than expected, allowing grid operators to send extra power through them. 
  • Improving grid studies that determine what kinds of upgrades are needed for interconnection 
  • Federal permitting reform, which might allow more new transmission to be built

Resources:

  • Utility Dive: Why the energy transition broke the U.S. interconnection system
  • Volts Podcast: Transmission month: everything in one place
  • Canary Media: Manchin’s permitting-reform bill splits Dems, pro-renewables groups
  • Canary Media: New software can find more room for clean energy on transmission grids
  • Canary Media: FERC has a new plan to connect clean energy to the grid more quickly

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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