With financial rewards tied to building big, utilities overlook distributed energy resources like rooftop solar. This essay, written to advise utility regulators in Michigan, has implications for utility resource planning nationwide.… Read More
This report examines community choice energy, a policy giving cities and counties the right to purchase energy on behalf of electricity customers. Enabled in 9 states, community choice agencies are revolutionizing the utility model by offering cheaper, cleaner energy that aligns with local goals.… Read More
The following letter to regulators in Kentucky shares ILSR’s experience with value of solar policy, including the key categories of value to assess, the importance of a utility-independent methodology, the tension between accuracy and usefulness in setting prices, and what to expect from previous exercises in other states.… Read More
The neighbors of the proposed Badger-Coulee high-voltage line in Wisconsin are like those in many other parts of the country, upset that their utility will construct 200-foot steel towers across their region and through their property (they have some other … Read More
“We can avoid that $100 million investment in transmission lines, distribution lines, in capital infrastructure…” How can a utility like Long Island Power Authority avoid all that new capital expenditure? Find out in this interview with Vice President of Environmental … Read More
The enormous growth in local renewable energy is decentralizing the electricity system, often supplanting energy from centralized power plants. But not all renewable energy is built locally, even in a country like Germany with massive local ownership of its renewable … Read More
Update 3/27/12: added clarification to text and chart that prices include federal tax incentives If the cost of electricity were the only factor in energy discussions, we’d probably have a lot more coal and a lot less renewable energy. But … Read More
Western grid operators have been making plans for large-scale renewable energy imports into the California electricity market, prompting the governor’s Senior Advisor for Renewable Energy Facilities to write a “self-reliance” response.
Here are a few highlights of his letter to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC):
California has plenty of in-state development: “The California Independent System Operator indicates that renewable projects totaling 70,000 MW of installed capacity [nearly enough to meet all of the state’s peak summer demand] are seeking to connect to the CAISO-managed grid.”
Transmission costs are up, waaay up. In particular, “the developer of at least one significant line, TransWest Express, expects the project to cost about 70 percent more than WECC’s original assumptions…we thus appreciate the ongoing efforts of WECC staff to review these and other assumptions and to revise capital cost assumptions upward.”
Transmission line risks: “transmission lines proposed to stretch hundreds of miles over private and public lands face significant permitting and development risk – perhaps most so in the case of DC lines, which offer few electrical benefits to the states they cross.”
In summary, California has a robust in-state market for renewable energy and sufficient in-state renewable resources to serve its entire electricity needs, so Western states would do well to temper their export optimism.
Update 8/23/11: While solar can be built right under high voltage transmission lines, it can’t necessarily interconnect right at the tower. Thus, this piece should be read as an analysis of land use rather than easy interconnection.
What if the U.S. could get 20 percent of its power from solar, near transmission lines, and without covering virgin desert?
It can. Transmission right-of-way corridors, vast swaths of vegetation-free landscape to protect high-voltage power lines, could provide enough space for over 600,000 megawatts of solar PV. These arrays could provide enough electricity to meet 20% of the country’s electric needs.
It starts with the federal Government Accountability Office, which estimates there are 155,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the United States (defined as lines 230 kilovolts and higher). According to at least two major utilities (Duke Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority), such power lines require a minimum of 150 feet of right-of-way, land generally cleared of all significant vegetation that might come in contact with the power lines.
That’s 4,400 square miles of already developed (or denuded) land for solar power, right under existing grid infrastructure.
Of course, the power lines themselves cause some shading, as may nearby trees (although the New York Public Service Commission, and likely other PSCs, has height limits on nearby trees that would minimize shading on the actual right-of-way). To be conservative, we’ll assume that half of transmission line right-of-way is unsuitable for solar.
That leaves 2,200 square miles of available land for solar. With approximately 275 megawatts (MW) able to be installed per square mile, over 600,000 MW of solar could occupy the available right-of-way, providing enough electricity (over 720 billion kilowatt-hours) to supply 20 percent of U.S. power demands (note: we used the average annual solar insolation in Cincinnati as a proxy for the U.S. as a whole).
Making big strides toward a renewable energy future doesn’t require massive, remote solar projects, but can use existing infrastructure or land to generate significant portions of our electricity demand. Transmission right-of-way, providing 20% of U.S. electricity from solar, is just one piece of the puzzle, with another 20% possible using existing rooftops and a solar potential of nearly 100% from solar on highway right-of-way. Solar can help achieve a 100% clean – and local – energy future.