Across the world, policy makers are working hard to implement laws, directives and guidance that will work to accelerate the global transition to clean, sustainable energy.
These types of very high-profile policies - like the Inflation Reduction Act in the US - bring a clear focus to speeding up the installation and connection of renewable energy. But with less publicity and profile, just as much hard work is being carried out to ensure that renewable energy has the supporting power grid infrastructure to connect renewable energy sources to (such as offshore wind, onshore wind, solar power and hydrogen).
The grid of the future – US style
Over the last 12 months, the US Department of Energy’s Grid Deployment Office has been working to understand and determine what the grid of the future could look like in the USA and have recently published their draft report: National Transmission Needs Study.
A draft of the study was consulted on during October 2022 and in February this year, the revised study was made public for open consultation.
So, what are the key findings?
Well, clearly the US power grid system is huge, with around 160,000 miles of high voltage power lines and millions of low voltage power lines connecting approximately 145 million customers.
And it stretches across a vast area with a wide variety of environmental and geographical differences – from high mountain ranges, forested wilderness, desert and plain to huge cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Each of these areas have specific requirements and the study breaks the USA into 13 specific power grid regions for review.
Improving system reliability and resilience
However, whilst those 13 regions are environmentally different, the study determines that 10 of those identified have a requirement to “improve system reliability and resilience”.
What do we mean by ‘improved system reliability’?
In the simplest terms, we mean “keeping the lights on”.
Across many of those 10 regions, the impacts of severe weather events - from extreme cold and catastrophic flooding to searing heat and wildfires - have been felt by consumers. Widespread power outages and an increased cost of energy are just two of the monumental impacts.
The Grid Deployment Office proposes that the US grid of the future should be able to withstand severe weather events as they are predicted to become more frequent in the future due to climate change.
Connecting clean energy
The study also highlights the need to expand the power grid to meet new clean energy generation and demand in many regions... and this expansion is big.!
For example, the projections are that in 2035, a modest expansion of 33% compared to the size of the power grid in 2020 will be required in the Southwest region, rising to a 90% expansion in the Mountain region, 119% expansion in the Plains and a whopping 140% expansion in Texas.
These forecasts mean that the US could be required to more than double the size of their power grid - a big challenge!
Sharing sustainable energy
The other key finding of the study is that there is a need to build greater power sharing capacity between the regions so that clean energy can be shared more effectively across the whole US.
Because the US power grid is a series of connected but distinct systems, it uses a range of technologies and links to efficiently transfer power between those systems. And currently, the Grid Deployment Office thinks that those current links aren’t quite big enough for future requirements.
For example, the Southeast is expected to need to increase its power sharing capacity with its neighbours by 17.9GW in 2035, an increase of around 80% compared to 2020 capacity. Additionally, the Mid-Atlantic region is expected to require a further 43.1GW of sharing capacity in 2035, an increase of over 100% on 2020…that’s the equivalent to building the North Sea Link another 30 times!
So, what’s next for the US power grid?
I think there are a few key take-aways from this report.
For starters, it’s brilliant that the policy makers are focussing as intently on developing a well-sized, resilient and reliable grid of the future as they are on the acceleration of clean energy sources. After all, we’ll need the power grid to be ready to transmit to consumers across the country.
Secondly, there’s a lot of work to do in a short space of time. I mean, truly. Building the grid of the future will depend upon new technology, new approaches and new partnerships to get the job done. If you think about it – we took around 80 years to develop the grid of today and in all honesty, we’ve only got about 10 to develop the grid of the future.
And the final point I wanted to draw your attention to is that integrating clean energy sources to a reliable and resilient power grid not only addresses the challenges of climate change but also allows consumers access to more affordable energy. In many countries around the world, renewable energy is now the lowest cost source of energy generation and connecting and distributing it to consumers is critical.
A public consultation is underway, and the final version of the National Transmission Needs Study will be published this Summer.
In the meantime, I think we can all see the broad themes that are emerging and the fact we’ve got a lot of work to do if we are to realise a reliable and sustainable power grid.
For now, I’ll be continuing to engage with grid operators across the world to demonstrate how Hitachi Energy can partner with them to create and establish the grid of the future and I can’t wait to see what we create.
Keen to learn more insights and opinions from across the energy sectors?
Then you may be interested in reading more from our Perspectives publication.