US DOE launches US$20bn grid initiative to upgrade country’s transmission infrastructure

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The grid system in the US is in dire need of an upgrade if it is to accommodate increasing amounts of renewable power, experts said. Image: Pixabay

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has launched a “Building a Better Grid” initiative to catalyse the development of “new and upgraded high-capacity electric transmission lines” across the US under President Joe Biden’s US$1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

The programme seeks to identify national transmission needs and support the buildout of long-distance, high voltage transmission facilities that are critical to reaching the US’ goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and reaching net zero by 2050.

Specifically, it will support the development of nationally significant transmission projects and grid upgrades by engaging and collaborating early with key stakeholders, enhancing transmission planning to identify areas most in need, deploying more than US$20 billion in federal financing tools through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, streamlining permitting processes and performing transmission-related research and development.

The DOE said that “independent estimates” indicate that the US needs to expand its transmission systems by 60% by 2030, and may need to triple it by 2050.

Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategies LLC who frequently testifies to the US congress on transmission related issues, told PV Tech Premium that the US will need to significantly ramp up its investment in transmission infrastructure to accommodate increasing amounts of renewables, rather than acting reactively in response to a lack of capacity.

More than 70% of the US’ grid transmission lines and power transformers are over 25 years old, creating vulnerability, said the DOE. Meanwhile, interconnection queue waiting times for the number of clean energy generation and storage projects slated to be added on to the grid is growing as roll out of renewable electricity accelerates.

“The foundation of our climate and clean energy goals is a safe, reliable, and resilient electric grid,” said US secretary of energy Jennifer Granholm. “DOE’s new Building a Better Grid initiative is a job booster spurred by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and collaboration with communities to upgrade the nation’s grid, connect more Americans to clean electricity and broadband, and reliably move clean energy to where it’s needed most.” 

The DOE, which has also recently established an Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations to support grid scale energy storage, said the initiative will “make the US power grid more resilient to the impacts of climate change, increase access to affordable and reliable clean energy, and create good-paying American jobs across industry sectors.”

In the last edition of our PV Tech Power publication, PV Tech looked at the international grid system in 2030, examining the changes needed to support countries’ clean energy goals and climate targets.

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