Day two of a remarkable event.
Transmission: The Industry’s Next Growth Challenge
Vanessa Kellogg & Wayne Walker, June 2007 (North American WindPower)
American Wind Energy Association (AWEA),
National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC), American Electric Power (AEP), Department of Energy (DOE), Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT)
The Basics (click to enlarge)
(My thanks to the extraordinary patience of AWEA’s Christine Real de Azua, as well as to Jeff Garber and Mark Scher of MSE Power Systems and Chris Fleege and Paul Johnson of Minnesota Power, for helping me begin to understand the complexities of transmission. The knowledge was theirs, the mistakes are mine.)
Wind advocates (like AWEA and NWCC) as well as wind producers and utilities (like AEP) are developing multi-dimensional plans to overcome political, economic and NIMBY barriers so as to link sources of wind to places that need and want low-greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting, renewable energy. DOE’s National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC) and PUCT’s competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) are examples of such plans.
Wind energy is getting bigger and better and more plentiful right now. WINDPOWER 2007 closes June 6.
Dealers have been chatting each other up and consummating deals all week at AWEA’s peerless display of wind energy in the Los Angeles Convention Center.
When wind spins turbine blades, the energy it captures has to get to people who need it. How? By transmission wires. Right now, there aren’t enough wires. What wires there are weren’t put up to serve wind.
The country is fragmented by natural barriers and self-interests (click to enlarge)
Electricity generated from other energies, especially coal and gas, dominate the wires. That is, the base load on the transmission system comes from GHG-emitting fossil fuels. Wind’s smaller, newer supply and its intermittency relegate it to supplementary status.
In the absence of measures charging to fossil fuels the true cost of their GHG emissions (like a cap-and-trade or CO2 taxation system), energies like coal and gas tend to beat wind at the meter. Utilities and others burdened with the responsibility to keep the lights on and business doing business at the best possible prices will give the wires to the fossil fuels.
Where wind is most plentiful and cheapest, typically in windy, undeveloped places, new wires are necessary to carry the new wind farms' production to market. New wires are expensive.
Possible conclusion: Put up turbines just to watch them turn while we burn coal ‘til we choke. Or drown. Or die of thirst. And so on…
A lot of the system is already undergoing renovation; why not do it right? (click to enlarge this map of repairs in the grid undertaken with funding from the 2005 Energy Act)
Better conclusion: Put up new wires along with the new turbines.
Even better conclusion: It is as urgent to expand the capacity and efficiency of the national electrical grid as it is to expand the production of renewable resources like good old American wind and sun.
Best conclusion, to avoid Transmission-to-us Interruptus: Some version of national energy corridors.
“From the first transcontinental railroad to the interstate highway system, nationwide infrastructure projects have been brought to fruition by forward-thinking leadership and targeted federal funding. The interstate highway system alone cost more than $100 billion dollars at the time it was built. A similar responsible outlay of capital expense would provide a much-needed enhancement to an electrical infrastructure that has not seen significant improvement in decades.” (Kellogg & Walker)