Getting a greener network – Texas Border Business

Renewable energy generation technologies are able to supply a greater share of the national electricity demand. But to achieve this, it is necessary to invest in the fundamental elements of transmission and distribution of the electricity network. News image
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Texas border affairs

News – As Congress pushes forward legislation to invest $ 550 billion in new funding for national infrastructure projects, the specific priorities of each industry category remain undefined. For example, the proposed framework provides $ 65 billion to promote greater use of renewable energy sources within the U.S. electricity grid, but it does not define exactly how that will happen.

“The wind is certainly well positioned for expansion,” said Ronald Calhoun, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. “The technology is mature and reliable. In addition, it is very profitable. In fact, wind power is competitive in the market even without financial incentives. So there are good reasons for its further development.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources now represent 20% of the electricity produced in America. Within this sector, wind power is the most important source (8.4%), followed by hydroelectricity (7.3%) and solar (2.3%). In addition, wind power continues to grow more substantially than any other renewable energy. Its share in this category is expected to exceed 10% this year as new facilities come into service.

“When we talk about new wind power sites, the Great Plains are considered the richest resource area in the United States,” said Calhoun, director of the Environmental Remote Sensing Group, which operates within the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of seven Fulton schools. His team conducts atmospheric research and technology development to advance systems in the wind power industry.

“The area is ideal because it has an excellent wind and is also not very populated,” he said. “But whatever you build in these remote spaces has to be connected to the grid. And this road to the market is a big problem.

Power lines run through cities, counties, and states, and there is no single federal authority to obtain the permits needed to build new ones. In addition, they are very expensive. To overcome these obstacles, the infrastructure framework currently before Congress includes the creation of a new Network Development Authority to fund and facilitate new transmission lines.

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Laying these literal foundations is crucial for the construction of new wind farms. But it’s also important for increasing the number of commercial solar power installations, as solar farms operate in similarly remote areas. For example, the Agua Caliente Solar Project outside of Yuma, Ariz., And the Solana Power Plant near Gila Bend, Ariz., Cover more than 4,000 acres in the wilderness.

“Investing in the physical grid is probably one of the most important things we can do to support burgeoning renewable energy fields such as wind and solar,” Calhoun said. “The other challenge is to understand the issue of intermittency. How to face the times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining? “

Gigawatts through a pipe

Much attention has been focused on advancing battery technology as a means of balancing the fluctuating nature of energy generated by wind and solar sites. But many experts say batteries are too expensive to encourage the production of renewable energy on a larger scale.

“Batteries are ideal for short charging and discharging cycles. They can work to store grid energy from morning to night. But their capital cost is too high to sit on electricity for six months, ”says Klaus Lackner, professor of environmental engineering at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, also one of the Fulton Schools of the KNEW.

In contrast, Lackner says the cost of storing and moving energy in liquid form is negligible. Think about all the energy available at gas stations across the country. Also consider that a single gallon of gasoline represents the daily kilowatt consumption of a typical American household.

“The power we can get through pipelines eclipses the power we can get through transmission lines,” Lackner said. “We can move gigawatts through a single pipe. “

But how can the energy generated by wind farms and solar farms be transformed into liquid fuel? The answer could be carbon capture technology from the air.

Lackner is director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, which researches technology to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere both to combat the adverse effects of climate change and to help advance sustainable energy infrastructure.

At the heart of their work is the development of a “mechanical shaft” system that recovers CO2 from the air. While still in the prototype stage, the application of the new technology includes the concentration of carbon dioxide for commercial purposes in the gasification of beverages, the filling of fire extinguishers and the manufacture of dry ice.

“We can also combine this CO2 with hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water using renewable energies such as solar. And with this combination, we can create gasoline, diesel or jet fuel, ”Lackner said. “The necessary technology already exists, but it needs to become cheaper through a little more innovation and on a larger scale. My prediction is that this will happen within the next five years.

Fuel literally created from air could provide the storage medium needed to address the problem of intermittency preventing further adoption of wind and solar power generation technology. It could also mitigate the extraction and processing of fossil fuels for transportation. If carbon from the atmosphere can fuel our planes, trains and automobiles, it may not be necessary to drill into the earth for more oil.

This innovation seems to be a crucial opportunity to stop the accumulation of greenhouse gases causing climate change; and carbon capture is explicitly listed as a new technology priority in infrastructure ahead of Congress.

But Lackner and his colleagues at the Fulton Schools point out that avoiding greater ecological adversity requires more than recycling atmospheric carbon. Additional volumes should be avoided altogether, which probably means electrifying transport.

Gorilla in the room

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in America come from the production of electricity. But transport is an even bigger part of the problem: 29%.

To reduce these gases, the bipartisan congressional bill also spends nearly $ 6 billion to replace aging buses in the transit system with zero-emission vehicles. In addition, $ 7.5 billion is allocated to start up a nationwide network of vehicle charging stations to accelerate the adoption of electric cars.

“This is a logical step if we are serious about reducing emissions,” said Vijay Vittal, professor of electrical engineering in the faculty of electrical, computer and energy engineering, also one of the Fulton schools. “But if everyone buys an electric car, the additional loads on our distribution network suddenly become very significant. How are we going to support these additions? This question is like an 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Vittal explains that pedestal transformers used in most residential neighborhoods are typically designed to power four or five households. There are millions of these units across the country, but they were designed and deployed at a time when energy demand was lower. So if crowds of people start driving electric vehicles, our current electricity distribution systems will not be able to charge them all after work every day.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to modernize the urban and suburban network to support consumers and commerce; and it parallels the need for additional high-voltage transmission infrastructure to support wind and solar farms in remote corners of America. Both are long overdue investments in the capacity and resilience of a system essential to the functioning of society.

“Fortunately, this is not a technological problem,” said Vittal, former director of the Power Systems Engineering Research Center at the National Science Foundation, a consortium of universities and industries focused on the future of energy infrastructure. electric. “At the local level, our utilities just need to take out those old transformers and put in new ones. Of course, there is a significant cost to working at this scale. But the cost of not doing so can be even higher.

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