Researchers at MIT believe the U.S. can lower carbon emissions by expanding transmission lines. According to an MIT study led by researcher Patrick Brown, doubling transmission capacity would help the U.S. reach a zero-carbon grid. This is based on currently available solar, wind, hydro, and lithium-ion battery technology.
The analysis suggests expanding transmission would help reach the zero-carbon target. This would cut out the need for new nuclear power plants, long-term energy storage, or green hydrogen. These calculations are based on projected energy prices for 2030 and were informed by weather data from between 2007 and 2013.
Brown told GreenTech Media there are two reasons why expanding transmission infrastructure would have a major impact. First, it would concentrate wind and solar in the sunniest and windiest parts of the country. This would lead to more efficient energy production.
Second, regional power-sharing networks would allow renewable energy to quickly shift to where it is needed most. This would reduce the need for long-term battery storage.
A report released by the Wind Energy Association last year illustrated the importance of inter-regional energy transmission. The 15 states between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River account for 87 percent of U.S. wind energy potential. These states are also responsible for 56 percent of utility-scale solar potential. However, projections suggest that by 2050, these states only need 30 percent of the total energy demand.
The study concludes with an appeal for a national strategy to strengthen transmission.
“New and existing long-distance transmission significantly reduces the system cost of electricity and the amount of energy storage required for reliable zero-carbon electricity,” notes the study. “Streamlining the planning and permitting process for new transmission and coordinating decarbonization at the national (rather than state) level could enable a more efficient and rapid transition to a zero-carbon electricity system.”