The Nation’s Electric Grid Transmission System

Linemen looking at electric grid tower.

Given the fact that the nation’s power needs are growing, there is a lot of attention being paid to the nation’s electrical transmission system. Not only does this system need to be upgraded to keep it reliable and also capable of hosting the latest communication technologies, but it also needs to be expanded in order to link it with the increasing numbers of renewable energy sites around the nation (such as solar farms and wind farms) that need to be linked to the grid.

In March, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity hosted a national conference on transmission.

One of the presentations, titled “National Transmission Planning Study,” was given by Carl Mas and Hamody Hindi of the Office of Electricity, and David Hurlbut of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The presenters stated that the study was being conducted in specific by a joint NREL and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) project team. “The study builds on past projects and expertise at NREL and PNNL with the support and direction of DOE’s Office of Electricity,” said the presenters.

There are three objectives for the study:

1 – Identify interregional and national strategies to accelerate cost-effective decarbonization  while maintaining system reliability.
2 -I nform regional and interregional transmission planning processes, particularly by engaging stakeholders in dialogue.
3 – Identify viable and efficient transmission options that will provide broad-scale benefits to electric customers.

The desired outcomes of the study are:

  • Help prioritize future DOE funding for transmission infrastructure support.
  • Help fill existing gaps within interregional transmission planning.
  • Provide a framework for stakeholders to discuss desired grid outcomes and address barriers to achieving them.

The presenters identified five key tasks for the study’s baseline analysis:

1 – Develop a database of large, high-probability transmission projects likely to be in place by 2030.
2 – Develop a database of power generation projects likely to be in operation by 2030.
3 – From the above, develop a transmission and power generation nodal base case.
4 – Use the nodal base case to conduct power flow and production cost modeling for the grid in 2030.
5 – Answer the question: How close does the currently-planned 2030 system get to meeting the Administration’s 2035 decarbonization goal?

In terms of the study’s scenario analysis, there are eight key tasks:

1 – Define different scenarios or storylines to explore in capacity expansion modeling to identify potential future generation resources and transmission expansion options.
2 – Conduct capacity expansion modeling.
3 – Independently identify potential interregional renewable energy zones.
4 – Conduct production cost modeling.
5 – Conduct AC power flow and dynamic reliability analysis.
6 – Conduct economic analysis.
7 – Conduct stress case and resource adequacy analysis.
8 – Identify a portfolio of potential transmission options.

The presenters then discussed four strategies designed to ensure public engagement:

1 – Public workshops and input
2 – Existing convenor groups
3 – Technical review committee
4 – Tribal outreach.

For readers interested in staying abreast of this study and/or providing comments on it over the coming months, go to:


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