Electricity grid long enough to reach sun is key to the climate fight
- April 1, 2023: Vol. 10, Number 4

Electricity grid long enough to reach sun is key to the climate fight

by BloombergNEF

Imagine it’s 2050 and the world has managed to reach net-zero emissions. If you deconstruct the electricity grid and lay it out in a single line, those cables will stretch all the way to the sun.

A 94 million-mile supersized grid is what’s needed to power a greener future and avert climate disaster, according to BloombergNEF. That’s more than double the length of the grid today.

While solar and wind will undoubtedly be the stars of the energy transition, new renewables capacity is useless without the infrastructure to transport that clean electricity from where it’s produced to the end user. Grids will also be at the heart of enabling the charging network to accelerate the electric vehicle revolution, scaling up energy storage to complement intermittent renewables, and powering the electrolyzers that split water to produce green hydrogen.

The pivotal role of the grid is evident in the bottlenecks getting new clean energy capacity connected. There are almost 1,000 gigawatts of solar projects stuck in the interconnection queue across the United States and Europe, close to four times the amount of new solar capacity installed around the world during 2022. More than 500 gigawatts of wind is also waiting to be plugged into the grid, five times as much as was built in 2022.

Put another way, if all the wind and solar farms in limbo were built and connected to the grid, they would add up to more than the present electricity generation capacity of the United States.

Projects can end up being stuck in an interconnection queue for years. In an ideal world, developers would apply for permission, receive the green light, build their project and connect to the grid. But they get bogged down in assessments of how the new capacity will impact the wider network and what reinforcements to existing infrastructure will need to be made.

The problem is particularly acute in the United States, where the patchwork of now-antiquated grids was designed around a system reliant on fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, and planning for a renewables-led future doesn’t take a holistic view. Building long-distance transmission in the United States is challenging in the absence of a federal authority empowered to approve such infrastructure. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has proposed two major reforms to streamline interconnection queues and encourage grid operators to do more long-term planning.

As the aging U.S. grid struggles to cope with increasingly frequent severe weather events, there are question marks over whether it can handle the demands of the energy transition. An estimated 70 percent of transmission lines in the U.S. are more than 25 years old.

Scaling up the world’s grids won’t come cheap. Huge amounts of capital are needed to not only expand and upgrade networks to accommodate new generation assets and higher electricity demand, but also to replace aging assets. Bloomberg’s net-zero scenario envisages more than $21 trillion being spent by 2050, with the United States and China alone accounting for more than one-third of this investment.


This story was excerpted from a report written by BloombergNEF. Read the complete article here.


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