The Telegraph Herald highlighted an issue that many people may not consider when advocating renewable energy projects: a lack of an adequate transmission system to move clean energy generated in remote desert areas to more populated regions around the country.
Developers–and the government–believe that the vast expanse of sun-drenched desert in the American Southwest could potentially generate enough clean energy to meet the country’s energy demands, now and in the future.
Arizona for example is third in the country (behind California and New Jersey) for solar development, thanks to a wealth of large, utility scale solar farms and commercial projects like the recent 2MW installation at a Walmart distribution center near Phoenix.
Over 285,000 acres of federal land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah were identified this summer by the Obama administration to develop solar energy projects that could generate electricity for area homes and businesses. These projects will be overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and the President has identified these future renewable energy projects as key to securing the country’s energy security in the coming years.
But despite the solar potential of these lands and the support from the federal government, without necessary upgrades to the power transmission infrastructure, there’s no way to turn the energy produced in the desert into useable electricity for communities hundreds of miles away.
“We have incredible renewable energy resources,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said while visiting a solar research lab earlier in 2012. “The bad news is they’re where there are not many people. We need a distribution system that can accommodate that.”
This is real dilemma in places like New Mexico. The state receives 300 days of sunshine each year, but has a relatively small energy demand since it has a smaller population than other states. As the Telegraph Herald pointed out, “sending solar power from there to population centers isn’t as simple as loading coal into boxcars and shipping it cross country.”
A recent study by the Department of Energy found that the United States’ power transmission lines will require an upgrade in the next 20 years. Over 200,000 miles of power lines criss-cross the country and the electric industry is predicted to spend nearly $70 billion in the next three years alone to improve power transmission reliability and capacity. But it won’t be enough for all the renewable energy projects that have been green-lighted in recent years.