Outdated Grid Can Stymie Renewables

As more wind and solar plants get built in remote locations, utilities must figure out how to transport and store energy over increasingly vast distances.

2 minute read

December 23, 2021, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Solar and Wind Energy

Soonthorn Wongsaita / Shutterstock

Renewable energy sources are slowly gaining a foothold in the United States, but as Gregory Barber writes, our electric grid isn't quite ready for them. "Since 1889, when the US got its first long-distance power line (it traversed a whopping 14 miles), the grid largely has been set up for energy that’s consumed relatively close to where it is produced." But with renewables like wind and solar requiring vast swaths of space in far-off places, utility companies will have to improve their ability to harness and transport that power to where it's needed.

According to Princeton researchers, meeting national clean energy goals requires increasing the nation's high-voltage transmission capacity by 60 percent. Today, some production facilities are actually forced to shut down when they are producing too much power to transmit over outdated wires.

For plants that are yet to be built, the situation is even worse, because grid constraints mean backers must string new lines, and pay for them, before installing turbines or solar panels. Each year, hundreds of renewable energy projects stall in advanced planning stages due to delays in upgrading transmission lines and the cost of making those upgrades.

Barber describes research being done into 'grid-enhancing tools' that can boost the amount of power that lines can carry and improve flexibility during variable supply and demand periods. But experts say that "[t]echnologies that enhance the existing grid are one part of a much bigger puzzle." Creating a grid that can effectively harness wind and solar energy and meet future demand while preparing for the effects of extreme weather will require a comprehensive plan spanning multiple agencies and users.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021 in Wired

Red on white 'Room for Rent, Inquire Inside' sign

In Most U.S. Cities, Archaic Laws Limit Roommate Living

Critics argue laws preventing unrelated adults from living in the same home fail to understand the modern American household.

May 24, 2023 - The Atlantic

Vancouver Chuck Wolfe

Ten Signs of a Resurgent Downtown

In GeekWire, Chuck Wolfe continues his exploration of a holistic and practical approach to post-pandemic urban center recovery, anchored in local context and community-driven initiatives that promote livability, safety, and sustainability.

May 24, 2023 - GeekWire

Colorful high-saturation view of downtown Houston, Texas with pink and blue dusk sky

Transforming Downtowns Into Functional Neighborhoods

Rather than ‘monofunctional’ business districts or urban playgrounds, American downtown districts could become multipurpose neighborhoods.

May 25, 2023 - Wired

Blue and white Interstate 15 North sign against backdrop of blue sky and snow-capped mountains in Utah

Utah DOT Plans to Expand Interstate Despite Local Concerns

With more evidence pointing to the futility of expanding freeways, the state could take a creative approach to improving travel times and providing additional transportation options.

19 minutes ago - The Salt Lake Tribune

Close-up of lead water pipe with mineral crusts

An Equity Approach to Lead Pipe Replacement

A former Chicago health commissioner calls on governments to prioritize the most marginalized and historically disinvested communities when distributing funding to replace lead pipes, which have taken the highest toll on the health of disadvantaged c

2 hours ago - Governing

View of wetlands in South Carolina at sunrise or sunset

Supreme Court Limits Clean Water Act’s Power

A recent ruling ‘dramatically’ restricts the law’s reach when it comes to protecting wetlands.

3 hours ago - Politico

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.