One of the issues to make it to the fore of the presidential campaign is now “supergrids.” What? Yep, the idea got a big backwind at the last debate when Hillary Clinton was asked to clarify what she meant by “open borders,” which came out as part of a Wikileaks revelation.
The Democratic nominee proudly proclaimed she was speaking of the creation of a transmission grid that would cross international borders, allowing the transference of green electrons to places that might not otherwise have access to renewable energy. That’s what a supergrid is.
According to Navigant Research, investments in a global supergrid are going to increase from $8.3 now to $10.2 billion in 2025. You mean such that such things are already taking place? Yes. The United States, for example, is already connected to points in both Canada and Mexico. Okay, but those are at border areas. True.
But Navigant says that the largest global region with such investments is that of the Asia Pacific, where China, South Korea and Japan can link together and move wind resources — something that the Korea Electric Power Corp. is now trying to do. Asia Pacific accounts for two-thirds of everything that is happening right now. But such activity is also in such places as the North Sea, where offshore wind resources are moving energy onto the European continent.
“While regional supergrids could bring cleaner, more efficient, and more cost-effective electric power systems, their development is complicated by a number of factors,” says Jessica Lewis, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “These include limited political will, lack of harmonized standards, complex authorization and permitting procedures for cross-border transmission projects, and a conventional view of energy security as a national imperative, with individual countries reluctant to leave their supply security in the hands of others.”
That’s right. High-powered transmission can get renewable energy resources to areas from where they are generated to densely populated urban areas — even if they cross boundaries and continents. But doing so is tricky, not just because of the political and regulatory obstacles but also because of the technical ones.
In the United States, for example, utilities need the permission of every state utility commission where they plan to have a stake in the ground. On top of that, add in the NIMBY folks. And you can see why transmission siting is the most onerous siting task there is. Now double that if you want to go into neighboring countries. And then multiply it by a factor of 10 if you want to go from, say, North America to South America.
Indeed, that’s what Mrs. Clinton is proposing — a supergrid to cross national boundaries and even extend into different continents. What that would do is to give places without the access to wind and solar resources the ability to run certain manufacturing or business operations on green electrons.
Recognize that the presidents of Canada, Mexico and the United States — ‘The Three Amigos’ – just recently agreed to produce their half of their power by 2025 from hydroelectricity, nuclear, wind and solar, while also incorporating energy storage.
The United States now gets about 11% of its electricity from traditional green sources like wind, solar and hydro. Nuclear provides about 19%. The deal, though, would allow for energy sales across borders, which would count toward the clean energy goals. Already, Canadian electricity exports to the United States total about 1.4%, says the Energy Information Administration, while U.S. exports to Canada make up less than 1%.
“You know, we trade more energy with our neighbors than we trade with the rest of the world combined,” Clinton said during the third presidential debate. “And I do want us to have an electric grid, an energy system that crosses borders. I think that will be of great benefit to us.”