Renewable-Specific Transmission Projects Gain Steam

Clean Line Energy among several working on networks to bring wind, solar on the grid

2 min read
Renewable-Specific Transmission Projects Gain Steam

It isn't intermittency or storage that really presents the biggest stumbling block for wind power scale-up. it's transmission. Huge wind farms in the middle of the plains sound great, but if there isn't a network of high-voltage lines to bring the power toward load centers -- cities -- then those farms don't get built. There is a growing move to build up these transmission networks, though, by companies and projects with specific goals of getting renewable energy on the grid as quickly as possible.

Clean Line Energy recently announced approval to conduct business as a utility in Oklahoma; this will allow the company to start work on some major transmission lines. According to a press release:

"This approval marks a major milestone in Plains & Eastern Clean Line’s efforts to connect 7,000 megawatts of clean energy generation from western Oklahoma, southwest Kansas, and the Texas Panhandle to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Arkansas, and other southeastern markets."

Clean Line has several projects, but the Plains & Eastern version will eventually deliver power to 2.1 million homes. They hope to have the entire line up and running by 2017. Further north, ITC Holdings has long been in development for the Green Power Express, a transmission network designed to move 12,000 MW of renewable power around; it has since been incorporated into a larger network of transmission plans.

Some projects like this are already up and running. In 2010 Southern California Edison completed three segments of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project to bring renewable power toward the Los Angeles area. And more generally, a report from Edison Electric Institute in 2009 outlined more than $21 billion in investments by utilities and regional transmission operators to build out renewable energy transmission networks.

These projects -- and their cousins, like the Google-backed offshore "backbone," the Atlantic Wind Connection, that is in development -- are going to be key if renewable energy buildout is to continue, and  speed up as needed.

(Image via Thomas Kohler)

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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