Can We Connect Renewable Energy Hubs With Electricity Consumption Hubs?

New approach to transmission planning links renewable energy zones to major load centers through longer, higher-voltage transmission


A new approach to grid planning could make it possible to power your home with the best and most affordable wind and solar energy in the country, no matter where you live.

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) led the analysis with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) which studies the economics of constructing long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines anchored to interregional renewable energy zones (IREZs), or areas with very high concentrations of lower-cost developable renewable energy potential. The planned transmission lines would cross hundreds of miles and connect the country's best renewable energy resources to its largest load centers. Based on the NREL analysisThe IREZ approach could save money overall, help keep the lights on, and prudently accelerate the pace of decarbonization of the country's power grid.

Modeled benefits of interregional renewable energy zones

Today, almost all transmission lines are local or regional, as opposed to interregional, which would cross the seams of planning authorities. Transmission lines were originally designed to carry power from power plants to nearby communities. But most of the country's best wind and solar resources are hundreds of miles away from areas with high demand for electricity.

For this study, NREL modeled 20 IREZ scenarios focusing on cost, reliability, and impacts on electric rates. Almost all of the wind IREZ regions are in the Midwest and all of the solar IREZs are in the Southwest. IREZs offer the potential to optimize power generation costs, with costs per kilowatt-hour lower than those of wind and solar power elsewhere. Each zone contains an IREZ centre, where transmission substations collect power from various renewable energy plants and connect them to bulk power systems. Power from an IREZ is sent along high-voltage direct current transmission paths across state lines to major load centers (shown in red below).

Using IREZ transmission planning, low-cost renewable electricity could be sent from areas like southern Wyoming, which has one of the Greater wind energy potential in the country.—to cities like Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Many of the IREZ corridors modeled already have high-voltage transmission projects that are in advanced stages of planning or already under construction. Additionally, many of the IREZ corridors were modeled in areas identified at the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Network Deployment. Study of national transmission needs that need implementation to meet future demand, generation and reliability needs.

NREL found that the potential savings from the low cost of renewable generation offset the cost of building long-distance interregional transmission corridors. Additionally, IREZ corridors could provide more reliable resources to help keep the lights on than relying solely on local or regional resources.

Layout of interstate collaboration for IREZ corridors

A crucial component for the possible creation of IREZ corridors is collaboration between states.

"Long-distance transmission between planning regions was always more difficult to get through the approval process than new lines within the same region," said NREL researcher and lead author David Hurlbut. "But in recent years the electricity sector has been changing in ways that could make interregional transmission a more attractive option than it used to be."

The NREL study assumed that the path of least regulatory resistance was collaboration among states leading decisions on the development of IREZ corridors.

"States are crucial decision makers in the transmission process," Hurlbut said. "The IREZ analysis is designed to make it easier for states to answer the regulatory questions they must satisfy to move beneficial interregional lines."

States along the same corridor could work together to find the most cost-effective options for transmission planning and means to compensate landowners where proposed transmission lines might go. The study assumed that once states reach agreements on the development of the IREZ corridor, they could seek federal financial, regulatory and analytical support.

The study also explored implications for tribal lands, particularly those in western Oklahoma, northwestern Montana and southeastern Arizona. The hope is that the study's findings can help inform tribal decisions about how they want to participate in the nation's energy transformation with respect to land access, employment, tribal revenue, and other IREZ corridor development issues.

The IREZs are one actionable piece of a larger national picture that NREL and PNNL have been studying for more than two years. He National Transmission Planning Study (NTP Study)conducted by NREL and PNNL and funded by the DOE Office of Grid Implementation, aims to identify transmission options that will provide large-scale benefits to electric customers, inform regional and interregional transmission planning processes, and identify interregional strategies and nationals to accelerate decarbonization while maintaining the system. reliability.

The NTP study will be complemented by several complementary reports, the first of which is the IREZ report. The NTP Study and its key findings will be published later this year, along with a complementary report to IREZ that explains the regulatory challenges for interregional transmission that have historically prevented many of the benefits quantified in the NTP Study's technical scenarios from being realized.

Read the full report at Interregional renewable energy zones. Learn more about the PNT Study and NREL energy analysis and grid research.

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