As the US continues to see the highest levels of renewable energy investment in its history, the investments required to expand and improve the energy transmission grid will have to keep pace. This is happening through a combination of private investment and support from the Biden administration. Private companies like National Grid are investing heavily in grid innovation, while the Biden administration announced $13 billion in new funding opportunities to modernize and expand the power grid. This money will be distributed among the Grid Resilience Innovative Partnership (GRIP) and the Transmission Facilitation Program.
The GRIP grants to utilities and industry will target grid transmission and distribution technology with the aim of mitigating potential disruptions to the power system, such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires. Smart grid subsidies aim to improve the reliability, efficiency and flexibility of the electricity system. These grant recipients include projects aimed at integrating renewable energy, increasing capacity and preparing for the growth of electric vehicles in the market. Finally, the grid innovation program funds states, tribes, local governments, and public utility commissions seeking to work with grid owners and operators to improve transmission, storage, and distribution. Projects to improve grid storage will be of particular interest. Pradeep Takervice president and head of Corporate Venture Fund National grid partners, the CVC arm of National Grid, observed how storing excess energy will be a particular challenge as only so much will be drawn from the grid at any given time. However, he provided optimism by adding that there are currently many companies innovating in the net storage sector, including Line Visiona sensor technology that can unlock up to 40% more capacity on high-voltage lines, and TS conductora new and innovative powerline technology that doubles the capacity.
In addition, the Transmission Facilitation Program funds the construction of large-scale new transmission lines, upgrades to existing transmission lines and the construction of microgrids in certain areas. This program will provide up to $2.5 billion to create new high-capacity transmission lines or increase the capacity of existing transmission lines. The Department of Energy is authorized to purchase up to 50% of the transmission line’s maximum capacity, which will increase investor confidence and reduce project risk. This will be particularly important when electric vehicles enter the market, as energy demand will become more diversified as electric cars can charge anywhere.
The need to build the power grid to accommodate new renewable energy projects has become apparent most of the U.S. power grid was built between the 1960s and 1970s. Research conducted through the Princeton Net Zero America Study found that “nearly $3 trillion in capital needs to be mobilized for energy supply infrastructure by the 2020s (to achieve net-zero trajectories.)” This report released a list of priority actions to take place between 2020 and 2030 to make the net-zero goal achievable by 2050. These include expanding high-voltage transmission capacity by 60% to improve renewable energy delivery and planning and permitting additional energy transmission to enable further solar and wind expansion.
One of the biggest ways this could be achieved is by focusing on inter-regional transmission, which would be significant reduce costs. The decentralization of the grid to better integrate renewable energy will also play a vital role in achieving the goal of net zero emissions. Tagare described how this commitment to decentralization is a field in which companies are constantly innovating. This decentralization includes transmission and grid upgrades. Tagare describes how “interconnection times are long right now and don’t correlate well with where renewable energy occurs.” Decentralization, together with digitalization and decarbonization, forms the basis for the National Grid investment strategy, which has a $400 million fund and has already invested in 40 companies.
Grid investment, either through the Biden administration or through private companies, is essential for the development of the renewable energy industry. This is especially true if electric vehicles (EVs) continue to enter the market. As Tagare noted, “there is increasing recognition that the network needs to be upgraded. As the penetration rate of electric vehicles increases, the demands on the power grid will increase.” The transition to a carbon-neutral country depends on a far-reaching and efficient power grid, one that should be a priority for US public and private investment in the future.
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