Transmission Bottlenecks Bad News for Renewable Energy

Transmission Bottlenecks Bad News for Renewable Energy

May. 3 2011 – 11:33 pm By WILLIAM PENTLAND

Cold Winds Wind PowerIn 2007, nearly one-third of all the wind turbines in China were deliberately idled because a saturated power grid lacked spare capacity to carry any electricity the remote wind farms would have produced to consumer markets. While China has largely resolved this issue by expanding the transmission system’s capacity, it is not yet out of the woods entirely and still imposes rolling wind outages to avoid overwhelming the grid.

Like China, the prodigious expansion of power production from renewable-energy resources like wind, solar energy and geothermal has outpaced the ability of the transmission systems to move these new power supplies to centers of demand. As a result, transmission constraints in the United States and the European Union are threatening to table large-scale wind and solar energy projects under development. In some areas where the constraints are especially acute like Oregon and Washington State, the lack of spare transmission capacity could force wind farms that have already been built to shut down on a rolling basis in the near future.

Unlike China, the United States – and to a lesser extent the European Union – is unlikely to solve this transmission problem before the damage is done.

At least that is the primary conclusion of a new study by the high priests of energy and environmental policy at the Washington D.C.-based think tank, World Resources Institute. The study, called “High Wire Act,” evaluates the complex interactions between the transmission systems and renewable-energy markets in the European Union, China, and the United States.

The prognosis is grim. Simply put, everyone has transmission problems, but not everyone has viable strategies for solving them.

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