Input Stories

Input Stories

Energy “Supergrids” a Long Way Off in the U.S.

The U.S. and China are studying the promise of “supergrids” capable of routing electricity over long distances, according to POLITICO Pro (subscription).

Why it matters: A supergrid “gives more flexibility to energy sources such as wind or solar, which often are dependent on the weather. In other words, a supergrid can help send wind power from Texas to California when the wind isn’t blowing in the Golden State.”

  • First proposed a decade ago, the plan, long considered too costly, has begun to make better financial sense for China, where “renewables have become competitive with the main fuel used to make electricity, which is coal.”

China’s plan: China’s supergrid plan includes a better integrated grid of HVDC power lines and “green hydrogen … [which] then could be stored to generate electricity for use when electricity demand is high.”

  • Savings from such a grid “would allow China to use more expensive carbon dioxide removal methods, including direct carbon capture from the air, to become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2060.”

The U.S. approach: “In 2016, in the final days of the Obama administration, the United States also began looking at weather data as part of a plan to develop a future clean power plan.”

  • Models from one recent study, the 2021 North American Renewable Integration Study, “showed a future grid system that could cut electricity costs by as much as $200 billion between now and 2050, as solar and wind power replaced coal- and natural gas-fired generation.”

So what’s the holdup? Savings are unlikely to be realized any time soon, however, as “long-distance power lines can take a while to build in the United States, in part because of the time it takes to settle fights over legal rights of way,” according to Greg Brinkman, principal author of a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study.

  • Furthermore, abuse of regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the federal government to assess the impact of its proposed actions and opens the door to lengthy litigation, makes infrastructure improvements very difficult in the U.S., NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy Rachel Jones told us.

A winning roadmap: In Building to Win, the NAM’s infrastructure policy blueprint, we call on policy makers to “[s]treamline regulations so projects can get done more quickly, mandate accountability and improve efficiencies and processes to reduce the costs of delayed infrastructure.” Suggestions include the following:

  • “Promote early engagement and open collaboration between federal, state, tribal and local permitting authorities.”
  • “Encourage agencies to use third-party contractors to expedite independent reviews and save taxpayer resources.”
  • “Limit abuse of the legal system as a tactic to delay projects.”

What we’re saying: “Policymakers should be working to ensure that the 21st-century power lines, highways, bridges, cell towers and more that we rely on get built,” Jones said. “Modernizing environmental permitting means we can get more shovels in the ground and even more manufacturers to work. Manufacturers will continue keeping our promise to reduce our environmental footprint through innovation and sustainable practices—because we know that economic growth and environmental stewardship can and must go hand in hand.”

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