DOE roadmap points the way to faster clean-energy integration

April 24, 2024

The U.S. Department of Energy has released a guide to tackle the challenges of integrating clean energy resources into the nation’s electric grid.

The Transmission Interconnection Roadmap is a result of the Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X) program launched by the DOE in June 2022. The roadmap aims to speed the process of connecting new clean energy resources such as wind and solar farms to the network of electricity transmission lines and substations that deliver power to homes and businesses.

“Clearing the backlog of nearly 12,000 solar, wind, and storage projects waiting to connect to the grid is essential to deploying clean electricity to more Americans,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a press release.

The backlog of projects that are completed or being built but cannot yet deliver power has grown. In 2010, there were less than 500 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity waiting to connect to the grid. Today, that number has quadrupled to 2,600 gigawatts, more than 95% of which is renewable energy and battery storage capacity.

In 2023 the Department of Energy put out a request for information on potential solutions to reduce interconnection backlogs. The DOE organized that information into a roadmap that focuses on improved data management, speeding up the interconnection process and maintaining a secure grid while also prioritizing economic efficiency.

In the DOE report, each objective is accompanied by a set of actions to be taken by various stakeholders, including transmission providers, energy developers, regulators and the research community.

“Interconnection processes will need to evolve to handle this larger number of requests today and into the future, as policy and economic drivers continue to motivate significant resource development,” the document states. “This roadmap should be used to establish a key set of priorities over the coming years for stakeholder collaboration on the interconnection process that will ensure the electric system evolves to handle these significantly larger quantities of resource development.”

Electric grids must maintain a delicate balance of energy supply and demand; otherwise, electric transmission and distribution equipment can be damaged. When new resources connect to the grid, the grid’s independent system operators need to know exact data on how much energy the new clean energy resources can generate. Electric transmission companies use this data to determine where to build new power lines and how many they will need. To make the process easier, the roadmap calls for standardizing data and requiring data to be reported more frequently.

To further speed up interconnection, the DOE also wants to add more stringent requirements to ensure each project is commercially viable before beginning the process. The roadmap also recommends more workforce development to speed up interconnection, as well as the possibility that some tasks could be automated.

The roadmap proposes several measures aimed at lowering costs associated with interconnection. Instead of paying for transmission lines on a project-by-project basis, the roadmap recommends “proactive transmission investments” from federal and state governments. Costs could also be brought down by coordinating between individual energy projects and large-scale transmission planning initiatives, according to the roadmap.

The Department of Energy already has several programs that provide funding for improved transmission capacity, such as the $2.5 billion Transmission Facilitation Program and the $5 billion Grid Innovation Program. As part of the Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X), the DOE also announced a $10 million funding opportunity for reliable integration of wind and solar onto the grid, with final proposals due June 28.

Photo by Lucas Faria

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