A shift to 20 percent or more of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy is possible by 2024, but costs for new transmission lines could be as high as $93 billion, according to a new study released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
In addition to a significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure, it will also require system operational changes and offshore wind, according to NREL.
The primary goal of the study is to use three years of modeled time-series wind speed and power output data to evaluate the power system impacts and transmission associated with increasing wind penetration to 20 percent and 30 percent on most of the eastern interconnect, reports R&D magazine.
The Eastern Interconnection grid covers the eastern half of the U.S., extending roughly from the western borders of the Plains states through to the Atlantic coast, excluding most of the state of Texas. View a map of North American electrical interconnections below.
Supplying 20 percent of the electrical requirements of the Eastern Interconnection would call for approximately 225,000 megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity, which is about a tenfold increase above today’s levels, according to the study. To reach 30 percent energy from wind, the installed capacity would have to rise to 330,000 MW.
But it comes with a high price tag. With approximately 22,697 miles of new EHV transmission lines, the cost could be as high as $93 billion, according to the study. Although the costs to expand the existing grid are significant, they account for a small portion of the total annual power system costs in any of the four scenarios studied, reports the DOE.
The study, “Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS),” also includes a high-level analysis of transmission needed to deliver the wind energy to load centers and an analysis of carbon pricing impacts, reports the DOE.
The study indicates that reduced fossil fuel costs more than pay for the increased costs of additional transmission in all high wind scenarios.
Another finding shows that wind energy development is a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions. In the four scenarios analyzed by NREL, carbon emissions were reduced by similar amounts, which show that transmission helps to optimize the electrical grid and does not result in coal power being shipped from the Midwest to New England states. CO2 emissions reductions could be as high as 32 percent, according to the report.
Denise Bode, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO, said the study provides further validation that large amounts of wind energy can be reliably integrated into the nation’s electricity grid at low cost.
“This ground-breaking study demonstrates the major role wind energy can provide across the Eastern US, reducing and stabilizing electricity rates while protecting the environment. It also shows the urgency of transmission reform for both onshore and offshore wind development, because if we wait any longer we will not have the lines soon enough to tap these cost-effective domestic renewable resources,” Bode said in a statement.
AWEA reported in October last year that the U.S. wind energy industry has installed 1,649 megawatts (MW) of new power generating capacity in the third quarter, bringing the total capacity added in 2009 up until October to over 5,800 MW.