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Pitch

We need a national HVDC grid to bring wind power from the plains and solar power from the SW to every corner of the lower 48 states.


Description

Summary

Eisenhower brought the country together by building the Interstate Freeways;, we need connect areas where renewable power is plentiful (wind in the plains, solar in the SW) to regions where there is high power demand, but insufficient renewable resources by building a national electric grid. This grid also allows a diversity of sources to meet our needs, so that when the wind isn't blowing in Kansas, maybe it is in Texas or there's solar in Arizona or hydro in Oregon. 

Currently we have a local grids that connect together into regional grids. At the largest scale the US has 3 grids: East, West, Texas. It is currently not possible to get power from one region to another. This grid has many downsides:

•                It is unstable and when things go wrong we can get power disruptions across many states.

•                Sometimes one region has excess power that it can't export.

•                Concerns over health and visual impacts of power-lines.

 

These deficiencies can all be solved by a High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) grid, which is more stable, efficient and lower cost for long-distance power transmission. The power would be converted to DC at the source. Once the power arrived to where it was needed it would be converted to AC power and inserted into the existing regional grid.

The HVDC grid would work with the existing grid, just as the Interstate system works with local and state roads. Just like the Interstate system, the National Grid will require federal leadership. The advantages are spread across the country:

•                 It would bring jobs to impoverished, wind-rich regions

•                 Improving air quality, by allowing coal plants to shut down, replaced with power from distant wind and solar farms

•                Increasing the stability of our grid, reducing a national and economic security issue.

•                Power lines can be buried (reducing visual impacts) and emit no EM radiation (reducing health concerns)

 

 


Category of the action

Mitigation - What U.S. Federal Agencies can do to mitigate climate change


What actions do you propose?

The Department of Energy should develop a roll-out plan, starting by connecting areas of high renewable resources that are poorly utilized  (e.g. South Dakota) to regions with high power demand served by coal plants (e.g. Ohio). This would allow for a relatively small scale test of technology and operational challenges while providing significant value.

The DOE will also need to work with the current players (e.g. utilities, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Regional Transmission Organizations, Independent Power Producers, equipment manufacturers) to develop the framework in which the capacity of the National Grid is allocated and how it interacts with the existing system. FERC's role will be critical, because it has authority to permit transmission lines over opposition by NIMBYs (Not-in-my-backyard) local opponents. Ideally the route of the transmission lines will be worked out with local and regional players (e.g. the RTOs, county governments). To the extent possibly the transmission lines will follow existing right-of-ways, like freeways and be underground

Congress will need to pass a bill to support this effort. The fact that it will bring jobs to states like South Dakota and Arizona to build wind and solar power plants will help get this passed with bi-partisan support. My suggestion is that a small carbon tax on utilities, similar to the gas tax that funds much of the interstate highway system, funds the start-up and much of the capital cost, and that all of the operational  and some of the capital costs come from tariffs on the electricity that travels across the National Grid. 

Just like the Interstate Freeways, this is a multiple decade effort that has value immediately, but the value increases as the network covers more of the country.


Who will take these actions?

  • Congress will need to find a funding source
  • The Dept. of Energy needs to build a team to execute, create a roadmap, and likely technology solutions
  • Utilities and transmission authorities (FERC, RTOs) will need to understand how they will interact with the Federal system
  • Renewable energy developers will help identify good regions for development
  • Equipment manufactures will produce the equipment to create the grid.

 


Where will these actions be taken?

Most of the action will be in the US, but the technology used will be coming from across the world.


How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Feasibility

HVDC has been around for decades, for example transmitting hydro power from northern Quebec to New England. The Pacific Intertie transmits power south from the northwest to LA during the summer to power air conditioning and north during the winter to power heating. These two examples show how HVDC can enable the construction of remote renewable power plants and get the power to market and how HVDC can be used for regions with different peaking times to share generation capacity. 

In recent decades companies like Siemens and Alston Grid have made great progress in reducing costs and improve reliability of HVDC systems.

Clean Line Energy is working on several HVDC lines to support renewable energy. The differences between what they're doing and this proposal is scale and economic model, not technology.

When this system is fully rolled out it could allow the electricity sector to become carbon free, even while it meets growing needs from transportation (e.g. electric cars).


What are other key benefits?

  • Creates jobs in poor rural communities with renewable resources
  • Reduced air pollution from power plants
  • Fewer electric power outages


What are the proposal’s costs?

The total cost of the system would be in the billions. The cost of a high capacity HVDC line is about $3 million/miile.

Ideally, most of the costs would be covered by a small tariff on the electricity that is carried by the system and just folded into the cost of electricity.

The system may actually reduce the cost of electricity even after factoring in the cost to build the system: 

  • A windfarm in South Dakota that is able to be built because of the National Grid might produce more power than an otherwise identical wind farm that is located closer to where power is needed, reducing the total cost of the electricity.
  • By enabling access to larger markets, power marketers can get a higher price for the power they produce. This creates a stabilizing force on electricity prices nationwide and on average lowers electricity costs. For instance, during the spring peak in the Northwest the wholesale cost of electricity drops to near zero and occasionally it goes negative. If there was a way to get this power to Chicago, this would lower the price there with little impact on the price of electricity in Seattle. 


Time line

Short term

  • Design the system architecture.
  • Create the map of the complete system
  • Create the market mechanism on how transmission capacity will be allocated (e.g. auctions, long-term contracts)
  • Build one or two short lines(about 500 miles) to demonstrate the latest technology, establish a baseline on costs, and how the system will interact with the AC grids.
  • Next build a few medium length lines (about 1000 miles), including at least one line with a tap in the middle allowing power to be inserted or removed.

 

Medium term

  • Build out the map
  • Monitor technology developments
  • Maintain the system

 


Related proposals


References

http://www.energy.siemens.com/hq/en/power-transmission/hvdc

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/12/121206-high-voltage-dc-breakthrough

http://elpipes.blogspot.com

http://www.cleanlineenergy.com