Study evaluates interconnecting grids to improve power flows

Source: By Jack Money, The Oklahoman • Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2018

In this May 31 photo, a solar panel array collects sun light in Fremont, Neb., with a power plant seen behind it. Solar energy is gaining traction in a small but growing number of Nebraska cities, but the technology still faces a number of obstacles that is keeping it from spreading faster. [AP Photo]

 The nation’s power grid is just a little out of whack.

Analysts report that consumers served by utilities on the nation’s East and West coasts pay higher costs for their electricity than we do here.

A big reason for that, they explain, is an abundance of more affordable, renewable power produced in Oklahoma, Texas and other states between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River.

Because the power costs less, it benefits consumers in the nation’s central region.

But, what if there were a way to be able to send some of that energy to the nation’s coasts?

A project being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab called TransGrid-X 2030 aims to do just that.

A symposium about the project is planned in July at Iowa State University.

A co-chair of the project’s steering committee will provide members of Oklahoma’s Renewable Energy Council with some information about the research at the council’s monthly meeting in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Loyd Drain, a renewable energy consultant, said his talk mainly will focus on the declining costs of wind and solar energy and how those have revolutionized the nation’s energy industry.

“I plan to tweak people’s interest by sharing a few of the preliminary findings of the ‘Seam Study,’ hoping that will result in more attendees at the July symposium,” Drain said.

Study’s basics

The Seam Study referred to by Drain has been underway for about two years to analyze how the installation of a network of high-voltage, direct-current transmission lines could boost the availability of reliable, affordable power generated by renewable sources at load centers on the East and West coasts.

The project anticipates the ongoing development of wind and solar resources in the U.S. will boost current renewable energy production totals from 17 percent of what’s generated now to 50 percent in just 20 years.

If TransGrid-X were built, the study expects that up to 290 gigawatts of existing coal and nuclear generated electrical capacity could be retired.

It also predicts the added markets for the more affordable power would prompt development of an additional 600 gigawatts of renewable generation, of which about 60 percent would be wind.

This week, Drain said the concept has “been batted around for a number of years.”

The research was funded by the U.S. Energy Department, but, “within the transmission world, it has a lot of support and interest,” he said, noting it involves dozens of entities, including some regional transmission operators.

On the laboratory website, the study divides the nation’s power system into three major components, the Western Interconnection, the Eastern Interconnection, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The dividing line between the Eastern and Western interconnections is the Rocky Mountains, while the Texas system’s boundary begins at the Texas-Mexico border, extends north into the Texas Panhandle, then follows the Red River over to its east boundary on the Louisiana-Texas state line.

The laboratory site states those major grids “operate almost independently of each other. Very little electricity is transferred between the interconnections.”

The study, therefore, seeks to quantify the value of strengthening the connections (or seams) between the regions to encourage efficient development and utilization of U.S. energy resources and assesses the degree to which interconnection could create a more reliable, resilient, sustainable and affordable U.S. electricity system.

“It can shift abundant power into different markets depending on where power is needed at any given time of day,” Drain said. “It helps smooth out the variability of wind and solar generation across the country.

“And the more of that renewable energy that we get, the more that will be needed.”

Local impact

Tyson R. Taussig, president of the Oklahoma Renewable Energy Council, said his group eagerly anticipates hearing more about the Seam Study when it meets in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

The council is an educational organization focused on renewable energy, energy efficiencies and other complimentary technologies that meets monthly to hear presentations from associated industry experts on those topics.

A group that started on the council’s educational committee called the Oklahoma Renewable Energy Education Program recently obtained a $125,000 grant to implement an educational component that aims to educate youths in schools across the state about renewable energy.

As for the TransGrid-X research, Taussig said the upgrades it proposes could boost development of renewable energy resources within the Sooner State, especially solar.

“We have invested in our electric infrastructure, but not to the same extent that other countries have done,” Taussig said.

“Building these high-voltage, direct-current transmission lines designed to move power long distances from where the resource is to where the demand exists, that is a big way renewables will get supported,” he said.

“I think it is a great idea.”

The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at 9412 N Robinson Ave., Taussig said.