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Expanded Transmission Projects Could Reduce Grid Emissions

Published On
May 4, 2021

According to a January 2021 report, “A 2030 United States Macro Grid,” from Breakthrough Energy Sciences (BES), an organization founded by Bill Gates that works to promote innovation designed to help eliminate greenhouse gases, the United States could cut emissions from its electrical grid in half over the next decade through investments in renewable energy sources and transmission. The report, discussed in a Bloomberg News article, noted that, for an investment of $1.5 trillion, the United States could reach 70% carbon-free electricity and reduce its emissions by 42% by 2030.

The BES research focuses on four options for a stronger power grid that would help connect the country’s abundant, but far-flung, renewable resources to the people who need them. All of the options require a massive scale-up of wind and solar farms. The main differences are how the clean energy that is generated from those renewables would be distributed along power lines.

Crucially, decarbonization of the grid will have to happen even as it has to be made more resilient to more extreme and frequent weather events.

According to the report, finding ways to more efficiently transfer electricity across the nation is key to increasing renewable energy availability on the grid. BES proposes increasing the amount of upgraded local AC transmission lines, which are cheaper for linking up over short distances, and also increasing high-voltage DC lines, which are cheaper for connecting electrical resources across states.

Currently, if all the states that set clean energy goals for 2030 meet their goals, those upgrades would cost approximately $360 billion, but they would result in a mere 6% decrease in U.S. emissions. That spending would mainly focus on deploying solar and wind, with less than 4% spent on increasing transmission. BES’ plans suggest spending at least $200 billion on transmission, which would be more than 12% of the total cost.

According to Bloomberg News, BES’ proposals may be the cheapest way for the United States to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, because it is less expensive to put wind farms and solar parks in the places with the best resources and then transport the power than it is to prioritize putting them close to population centers to save on transmission costs.

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