Renewable energy’s Achilles heel — America’s aging electrical transmission system


Earlier I noted that

Two-thirds of the energy used by the electrical generation and distribution system never reaches the end user.

According to Technology Review

Without a radically expanded and smarter electrical grid, wind and solar will remain niche power sources.

According to EE Times

One recent study estimated the U.S. alone will need to spend more than a trillion dollars by 2030 just on its energy transmission and distribution networks. By contrast, even the $4.3 billion for smart grids in the recent stimulus package “is a drop in the bucket,” he said.

According to Michael Noble

America’s aging electrical transmission system is renewable energy’s Achilles heel, and unless a broad policy consensus to upgrade our electrical grid is forged soon, the potential of wind and solar power will be vastly diminished.

According to David Strahan

However, engineers at Chubu University in Kasugai, Japan, have been testing a 20-metre length of HVDC [high-voltage direct current] superconducting cable and they believe it could eventually revolutionise electricity distribution. The team, led by engineer Satarou Yamaguchi, have come up with a new cable design that can be cooled more effectively and store up to 4 megajoules of magnetic energy per kilometre. Use thousands of kilometres of this cable as an HVDC line and it would act as a giant battery, Yamaguchi suggests, helping to smooth the output from solar or wind. Superconducting HVDC cables have been proposed for linking grids on the east and west coasts of the US, as well as to transport electricity generated in the oil-tar fields of Alberta in Canada to southern California.

See also the Desertec red paper about an ambitious HVDC/solar plan from the Club of Rome. And Tres Amigas.



One response »

  1. You state “Two-thirds of the energy used by the electrical generation and distribution system never reaches the end user.” This, presumably, is because thermal power stations are no more than 30-40% efficient. The grid itself loses much less than that.

    I know that here in Quebec, the grid loses about 6% from the vast hydro schemes up in James Bay and Newfoundland to metro areas like Montreal. And the HVDC transmission lines that interconnect to the US grid lose even less than this.


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