President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy may provide a pathway to independence from ‘less desirable’ forms of energy, but not without a boost in the infrastructure needed to transport and deliver said energy. Current infrastructure can barely meet our current needs, let alone those of the future.
One example is the American Southwest where 300 days of blistering sun each year provide a perfect opportunity for booming solar energy output. Unfortunately, besides Phoenix and Las Vegas there are very few populated areas in the region and thus little demand for energy. The technology exists and so do the elements, but what are missing are power lines that can bring the energy from the desert across the prairies and to the masses.
Potential alone has never lit a light bulb. President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have fast-tracked five gigawatts of solar and wind output that will power nearly three million American homes this summer alone. Yet, there aren’t enough transmission lines to properly harness the potential found in the desert.
A new Department of Energy study on transmission congestion shows current transmission lines are aging and will need to be replaced by 2030. The fear is that current infrastructure will not be able to keep up with this new wave of energy projects, according to the North County Times:
Transmission gridlock is looming on the horizon in sunny Arizona, where the state’s transmission capacity would be overloaded by just half of the proposed projects currently in the works. In the Northeast, wind generation has already been curtailed due to a lack of transmission capacity, according to DOE researchers.
It isn’t enough for politicians to promote clean and alternative energy; they must make these concepts possible by providing for up-to-date infrastructure. Obama and Co. speeding up the permit process has helped meet demand, but such strategies must be more broadly implemented:
In New Mexico, there were 18 utility-scale solar projects in the pipeline during the last fiscal year compared to none in 2010. But major transmission proposals that would crisscross the state are still in the permitting phase.
By quickly creating infrastructure that can meet our future needs, not just our current ones, an energy crisis may be averted. Solar energy technology is growing by leaps and bounds, but we must make sure that the energy can reach consumers.
At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, scientists have modeled what the U.S. would look like in 2050, and they say it’s possible for renewable energy to make up 80 percent of the electricity generated, even with existing technologies.
Whether that comes to pass will depend on the price of technology, transmission capacity and policies and regulations that encourage renewable energy development.
Americans are looking for both cleaner energy and ways to create jobs and grow the economy. Solar energy provides both. According to Adam Browning, executive director of the nonprofit Voter Solar Initiative,
Renewables provide a powerful solution that’s really about tapping into great American values of self-reliance, of technology mastery, of creating new industries that put people to work,” he said. “I really feel there’s a great political narrative to this.”