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More Wind, More Wires

| 8/27/2008 11:07:00 AM

Wouldn’t it be great if more of our electricity came from wind and solar power? There are a lot of good reasons the United States should start generating more electricity from renewable sources. But what will it take to make that happen?Wind and Wires 

One thing we are likely to need is an upgraded, expanded electric grid with more transmission lines extending to the sunniest and windiest parts of the country. Today, there’s a great article in the New York Times that does a good job of explaining the connections between transmission upgrades and developing renewable energy.

You can find another good discussion of the need for grid improvements here in this recent article from Renewable Energy World. It was originally published by the American Wind Energy Association, and includes many details about how upgrades to the grid could help speed up the development of wind energy.

 It’s also worth mentioning that some individual states are already leading the way with transmission upgrades — notably Texas.

Do you think the United States needs to upgrade its electrical grid? Tell us your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Photo by Tom Wald/Istockphoto 

9/20/2008 11:23:47 PM

There is an alternative to employing more copper to build high voltage lines. In a recent blog I posted at another site, I pointed out the effectiveness and growing affordability of wind and solar power, and was rebuked with the same "we need more wires" response. So I did the research, and after spending hours to write a follow-up article that the owner of refused to allow ("we don't need to respond to people's comments"), I simply stored the file away. The solution is microwave transmission of power. It has been in development since the mid 1960's as a way to get power generated in space back to earth. But it can also be used right here on the planet to move power from areas where it can be generated into the population centers where it is needed most. The potential danger to animals and plants is lower than exposure to a conventional microwave oven, and since the receptors for the transmission take the form of a sort of "web" of contact points, interference to sunlight, wind and even animal and human movements is actually much lower than the same interference which would be caused by installing high-cost high voltage transmission lines. The original concept of wireless power transmission was formulated by Nikola Tesla himself, and is currently being tested for use in countries around the world, most notably Japan. Wireless power transmission has another advantage as well, since it can be used to transmit power to geographic areas that have traditionally been too expensive to reach with wired transmission, such as mountainous areas. "The only way out of the box is to think outside of it."

Glenn Campbell
9/7/2008 8:42:19 AM

Thanks for this article on this important topic. I wanted to expand on Clint Marchbanks' point and clarify that only one presidential candidate--Sen. McCain--is pushing for 45 new nuclear generating facilities. Sen. Obama is more circumspect about new nuclear power, saying we'd need to come up with a long-term storage solution for the radioactive waste before proceeding with new nuclear plants. Obama also recognizes that new nuclear plants are likely to be considerably more expensive than new utility-scale wind, solar thermal, and geothermal electricity sources. Obama has also focused consistently on the need for the types of electrical grid upgrades that this article discusses. What's exciting is that electric grid enhancements and expansion in the right areas will make the huge green electricity potential of concentrated solar thermal power available to huge swaths of the country. Solar thermal electricity will be cost-competitive with coal within the next 3 years or so, and the desert areas of the southwest US have the potential to supply virtually all our nation's current electricity needs (including the need for baseload, 24/7 generating capacity) if concentrated solar thermal plants are deployed aggressively and intelligently. The real need will be for grid improvements to bring this new renewable and carbon-free power out of the deserts and into the rest of the nation. Let's get to it!

Megan Phelps
9/5/2008 11:06:52 AM

Hi Leslie, I just wanted to say that I think you're making a really good point here: the utility-scale projects are not the only way to go. More distributed, home-scale projects have a lot of advantages too. On the other hand, since some areas have much better solar or wind resources than others, I think it makes sense to have some big, or at least medium-sized, wind and solar projects in the locations that have the most wind and sun.

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