Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Renewable Energy and the Electrical Grid

Matt Yglesias posts a simple but interesting map of the United States' high-voltage electricity grid.

Yglesias quotes Bracken Hendricks, who says in an article for the Center for American Progress:
Although the United States has vast onshore wind resources—more than enough to supply 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030, according to a recent Department of Energy study—the best of these wind resources are located primarily in remote regions of the country. These areas are generally located far from major centers of electricity demand and have little or no access to the “backbone” extra- high-voltage transmission lines that would be required in order to transmit power efficiently from these regions to major electricity markets.
Indeed, if you compare the power lines to the areas with wind and solar energy potential, it almost looks like they were trying to avoid those areas, especially the windy ones, as these maps from Hendricks' article show:

Of course, the people who built the grid weren't trying to avoid those areas - renewable energy production just wasn't a concern back then. This is a problem the United States has in a lot of areas - it was a world leader at building infrastructure back in the day, but all that once-state-of-the-art stuff is now getting old and obsolete. But instead of just throwing up a whole new infrastructure, like China can do in many cases, the US has to work with and around all the stuff that's already there. It's like learning to dance in middle age: the process is clumsy, slow, and generally awkward for everyone involved.

UPDATE: Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag just said this at a press conference:
In energy, reduce dependency on foreign oil and improve operational efficiency of gov't by 25% by 2013. $15 billion/year in energy efficiency investments, including creating an electricity superhighway that would allow transportation of wind energy from the Dakotas to the population centers that need the energy. This expenditure would be financed through cap-and-trade, in a "market-friendly" way.
You see the sort of influence this blog has?


Greg said...

I'm intrigued by the "marbled" appearance of the wind power map in the Dakotas and Montana, compared with the blobs of color in the KS/OK/TX area. Also, is there something magical (or geographical) about the Wisconsin/Michigan border that makes wind power no longer viable in the UP? Makes me think the map is cobbled together from separate, varyingly-detailed-and-not-necessarily-complete sources.

Chachy said...

Yeah, it looks that way doesn't it? Look at Missouri, especially; unless that state has surrounded itself with a thousand foot wall to block all the wind.

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