Sheldon Whitehouse and Mike Quigley have a plan to get it done
One thing the article left out: not much power is lost in transmission when high voltage lines are used, less than 10%. I was concerned about how much power would be lost in transmission had to google to find that.
I recall being taught in 8th grade science that 20% of power is lost in transmission, which made me think that transmitting from the windy plains to the lower Midwest or Northeast would be monstrously inefficient. The current figure is about half of that. Furthermore, loss is proportional to the inverse square of voltage times distance, so you can lose more power on a dozen miles of low voltage line than 200 miles of high voltage line.
This is a basic fact which practical people should know, akin to how many miles a ton of rail freight can travel using a gallon of fuel.
Geothermal is also a great untapped source of lithium; major expansion of geothermal drilling could be a huge benefit to the domestic lithium production for batteries.
For context, NREL says that at the Salton Sea geothermal plants in CA, 24k metric tons of lithium pass through annually in the hot geothermal brines. That’s about 30% of global lithium production. Extracting it is profitable at LCE prices of $11/kg compared to the average 2019 price $12.70. It’s very sustainable because heat and energy to purify the lithium are available from the geothermal plant. What’s more this is a fairly under-researched field so efficiency can go up a lot. GM is excited about this and recently announced a deal to source a lot of their lithium for automotive batteries from CA geothermal projects.
NREL report https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/79178.pdf
GE announcement https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/gm-shakes-up-lithium-industry-with-california-geothermal-project-2021-07-02/
Been trying to build the Grain Belt Express transmission line in Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois for more than 10 years now. Every time it looks like we are getting close some other a-hole steps in to mess with things. No eminent domain, the only property lost is the actual space where the pole is located for which the company will pay 110% of the value of that land.
"and population density (top right)"
Should be "bottom right".
There are lots of long-distance international electric lines in Europe, for mostly the same reasons, but also French nuclear power. Lots of other countries have lowered their carbon emissions per MWh by importing French nuclear power (as well as building their own renewables). There's a giant transmission line that runs through the Channel Tunnel to bring power from France to Great Britain as well as various lines within the continent.
If there's a big interregional power transmission system, then the option could open up for one state to just decide to support nuclear power in a big way and then export it right across the US.
I fully agree that we need more long-distance transmission lines, that permitting them is a mess, and that the problem needs to be fixed. I just hope no one reads this as fuel for the misguided debate over centralized (big wind/solar farms plus long-distance transmission) vs distributed generation (rooftop and community solar with local storage) of green energy. As David Roberts explains here, we are going to need a mix of both. https://www.volts.wtf/p/rooftop-solar-and-home-batteries
BURY THE POWER LINES.
I am not sure if this would alter any implementation or policy issue, but as a nation, we should commit to shifting from the ugly and unreliable above-line power grid and shift 100% to underground electric power lines.
It would make American towns, cities, and scenic byways look far more attractive and modern. And it would also protect our power grid from the elements.
Not to mention it'd be the biggest "hard hat" job push in decades.
Can we combine the urgency of electrifying our power sources and grid with the smart elegance of burying it?
I agree that we should invest in interregional electric lines (and change regulation to make it easier). But I don't think it's a necessity- we can also make great progress on clean energy with the system we have now.
First- the color gradient on that solar PV map is pretty deceptive (as colored maps often are). Look at the scale- it goes from 2 at the bottom (nowhere in the continental US, might be in northern Canada or Alaska), to 3.6 in the middle (most of the northeast) to a max of 6 in the southwest. Obviously 6 is better than 3.6- but 3.6 is still plenty! Remember that the energy from solar PV comes from radiation, not temperature- you can still get sunburned on a cold cloudy day in the north.
In practical terms (source: https://news.energysage.com/how-many-solar-panels-do-i-need/) that means a house in Massachusetts might need 25 panels compared to just 20 for the same house in California. Sure, 25 costs more than 20, but it's not a huge difference. If we're just talking raw energy production, it's almost certainly cheaper to overbuild solar panels in the northeast than to move the electricity long distance from other states. Solar panels are cheap these days- we should overbuild them wherever possible, instead of relying on fancy workarounds. The excess is also useful for things like [strike]mining bitcoin[/strike] intensive scientific computation, which can be run flexibly whenever energy is cheap.
That said, intermittency obviously remains a problem. A 100% solar system has to deal with both short term outages (night time) and longer term outages (winter storms). The massive growth of battery production due to electric cars has gotten us to the point where battery storage is actually viable on a grid scale (see for example, Gateway Energy Storage in California), but it's still mostly as an alternative to gas peaker plants. In other words, current battery plants are to deal with sudden spikes in demand, not to power a city all night or through a winter storm season.
I think that advances in battery tech plus long-distance power transfer like this article suggests will eventually get us to the point where a solar could handle 100% of our electricity needs. (wind helps a lot to reduce the storage/transfer needs, but it also has much more limited potential than solar). So yes, by all means, we should invest in long distance electric transfer! That said, it's not a critical issue. I'm worried that the tone of articles like this downplays the incredible potential of the renewable energy technology we've *already* developed. This is a "build, baby, build" situation!
Let's use solar power to handle, say, 80% of our electricity needs, and switch to EVs as much as possible, while continuing to use fossil fuels for emergencies and backup (and nuclear too, but in my opinion the costs and political headaches aren't worth building new plants right now). At that point, we've reduced our carbon emissions by 80%, which buys us time to think about how to get the last 20%. It also allows us work on technologies like Carbon Sequestration and Direct Air Capture, which have the potential to get us not only to 0, but to *negative* carbon emissions, which is what we really need to get a win on climate.
In other words: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Solar panels and lithium batteries have massively cut costs in the past decade (thanks, China!). It's time to make use of them on a much bigger scale.
Hmm...someone been reading ex-colleague Dave Roberts, I presume? (Another great blog to read, if anyone is interested)
This is quite ludicrous actually. Let's begin with the idea that simply building a continent spanning grid of high voltage transmission lines solves the problem of getting solar or wind power from where it can be efficiently generated to where it needs to be. That is not at all true. The problem of distributing power from hundreds of thousands of point sources that randomly come on line or drop off with the vagaries of the weather requires requires quite a bit more than just long distance transmission lines. Which is why the existing grids get saturated with usable wind or solar at around ten to fifteen percent of transmitted power. After which they become unstable. But the really ludicrous idea is that making this monumental investment that only wind and solar and geothermal require will somehow lower the cost of that power. That cannot possible be true unless that stupendous investment is free. It won't be.
Basically this whole idea comes down to putting all your eggs in one basket, a continent spanning grid, and it is a dangerous idea. Part of the danger can be alleviated with mass energy storage of whatever type. But that too is tremendously expensive. And these costs must also be attributed to what are called sustainable sources if that is what you use them for. Where this gets interesting is that if you do have mass power storage it works much more efficiently with conventional power sources and you need a lot less of it. It is especially well suited to nuclear power. None of this is cheap. All of it has to be paid for and none of it is going to magically lower your power bill.
On the topic of the uneven playing field, where the regulatory system is geared toward fossil fuels, there is a risk that there will be more stringent procurement requirements, like Buy American, imposed on clean energy receiving financial support, including tax credits, under the Democratic climate push. In an effort to ensure no enemies on the left, the climate advocates within the Democratic Party seem to have settled on a "whatever labor wants" approach that is risking stronger Buy American requirements than anything imposed on the oil and gas industry. This is going to drive up the costs of deployment and slow down what needs to be a rapid growth in clean energy. Surprised this isn't getting more attention.
I’m not particularly familiar with the existing permitting process for natural gas, but I do live near the proposed PennEast pipeline. That’s been in litigation for years, now, including finally going before the Supreme Court this term. Obviously this isn’t a typical case, and I don’t know how atypical it is, but the state’s ability to impede that project makes me worry that the “giving landowners a fairer shake” provisions in the Whitehouse-Quigley bill might still prove to slow the process down too much.
"...and population density (top right)."
Should be *bottom* right.
Power this, DC that -- this is just all about Statehood for the District, right?
No Alternation without Oscillation!
Easier permitting is vital, but as David Roberts has laid out in great detail, a big part of national transmission is getting states to agree to share power, whether regionally or nationally.
You'll recall this came up last winter with the big Texas freeze, but it is a more general problem
For an entertaining read about this issue, I suggest Superpower by Russell Gold https://www.russellgold.net/superpower