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Modernizing the North American Power Grid: Revamping the Transmission System and Planning Process (Part 3)


Our Electric Grid Needs a Major Upgrade: Here's How We're Doing It 

Our electricity needs are changing rapidly, with more reliance on renewables and electric vehicles. But our power grid, the system that delivers electricity to our homes and businesses, isn't keeping up. This blog post picks up from the last one in the series and explains the challenges and ongoing efforts to upgrade our grid for a cleaner, more reliable future. 


The Problem with the North American Power Grid 

  • We need triple the amount of electricity by mid-century. This surge is fueled by the electrification of vehicles, home heating, public transportation, and industry.

  • Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are growing, but they produce energy intermittently and are often far from where people live. 

  • Our grid is fragmented and aging, making it harder to deliver power efficiently and reliably. 


To accommodate the growth of both demand and supply, a major overhaul of our nation's transmission system is essential.


Infrastructure and Policy Hurdles in Grid Modernization

To meet the increasing demand and integrate renewable energy sources effectively, we must embark on a significant expansion of long-distance transmission lines and enhance the inter-regional connectivity of our power grid. This requires not only substantial investment but also a shift in planning and policy to prioritize long-term, nationwide interests over short-term, regional ones.


Current obstacles include limited transmission development in recent years, inadequate inter-regional links, and a planning framework that often prioritizes utility interests over those of consumers. Additionally, the process for approving and permitting new transmission projects is cumbersome and varies widely across states, hindering efficient development.


Proposed Solutions for Grid Modernization

  • New Transmission Lines We need to build more power lines, especially long-distance ones, to connect renewable energy sources to population centers. 

  • Better Planning We need a coordinated national plan to guide these upgrades, considering long-term needs and public benefits. 

  • Standardized Benefits Currently, different regions use different methods to evaluate projects, making it harder to plan effectively. 

  • Fairer Cost Sharing Right now, utilities often prioritize their own interests over broader benefits when deciding which projects to build. 

  • Early State Involvement States need to be involved in planning early on to ensure projects meet their needs and policies. 

  • Increased Inter-regional Connections More connections between regions would improve reliability and allow for better use of renewable energy. 


Efforts Underway for Grid Modernization

  • Federal Legislation The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates funds for grid upgrades and promotes clean energy. 

  • FERC Rule-making The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to issue new rules soon to improve transmission planning and cost allocation. 

  • The BIG WIRES Act The BIG WIRES Act, introduced in September 2023, aims to improve interregional connectivity, further supporting the grid's ability to meet future demands. More details on the act here.


A Call to Action for a Modern Grid 

The transformation of America's electric grid is not just necessary; it's underway. With the right planning, policy reforms, and investment, we can build a grid that meets our future energy needs, supports the integration of renewable energy, and moves us closer to our decarbonization goals. The time for action is now, as we lay the groundwork for a more resilient, efficient, and sustainable electric power system.


 

This post was written by Evan Heryet, Program Manager at THAMPICO LLC, a consulting firm that provides program and project management support for utilities and cooperatives. We help our clients align people, process, and technology to produce optimal outcomes for energy project development. Our goal is to help our clients deliver more reliable, affordable, and clean energy, which is what the world wants and needs.

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