President-elect Barack Obama’s ambitious energy initiatives emphasize electric-powered vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels — all of which hinge on building a transmission grid capable of delivering renewable power generated in remote places to distant cities.
“One of … the most important infrastructure projects that we need is a whole new electricity grid,” the Illinois Democrat said last month on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” “Because if we’re going to be serious about renewable energy, I want to be able to get wind power from North Dakota to population centers like Chicago. And we’re going to have to have a smart grid if we want to use plug-in hybrids.”
But getting that grid built will be very complicated and very expensive. Grid developers face uncertainty in cost allocations and returns on investments, environmental concerns, landowner objections and a patchwork quilt of regulations for every state crossed by the power lines.
“There is an infrastructure need associated with renewables that is pretty profound, especially when it is crossing state lines,” said Philip Moeller, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “That is where it is of the national interest, and there should be an appropriate equivalent role for the federal government.”>>>MORE
Yesterday, Environmental Capital made a point about wind's intermittency that you don't see too often, even though it is well known in the business:
...The short answer? Changing the energy mix even in a single state is no cakewalk: “Serving 33% of California’s energy needs with renewable sources will require an infrastructure build-out on a scale and timeline perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the world,” the CPUC said in its latest progress report to the state legislature. Not cheap, either—utility regulators estimate it will cost at least $60 billion between 2010 and 2020 to meet the goal.
The biggest hurdles to meeting the target include building new transmission lines to carry the juice, and making sure the system can handle the intermittent electricity generated by renewable energy. Building new transmission lines can take 7-10 years due to permitting delays, the report concluded, and the state is already struggling with a backlog due to the growth of renewables in the past two years.
The intermittency problem is dicier. Wind power is an exponential game. Just as bigger turbines and higher wind speeds exponentially increase the amount of electricity generated at wind farms, adding more intermittent wind power to the electricity grid exponentially increases the costs of meshing that clean energy with the rest of the system, California’s electricity system operator found. Or as CPUC puts it, “As the state increases its dependence on intermittent renewable resources, the system must still provide reliable electricity services, which will add to the total costs of reaching a 33% [renewable standard].”>>>MORE