Throughout his campaign, President Trump referenced a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, designed to reestablish the US as a global economic leader and put middle class America to work. Now, post-election, there is focus on the plan.
Shortly after the inauguration, the Trump transition team circulated a priority list of potential investments totaling over $125 billion. The list included several energy projects, including transmission line buildout (#9 — Plains & Eastern Electric Transmission Lines, #16 — Trans West Express Transmission) and grid modernization (#49 — Energy Storage and Grid Modernization).
These types investments are critical to address the shortcomings of our grid, which are a matter of economy, resilience and national security. The list below compiles an inventory of potential grid investments that can be made (to varying degree) at federal, state and municipal levels to modernize our energy infrastructure, and our economy:
Multiple interregional, cross-ISO lines have already been built. We need more, with greater capacity and smart flexibility. Such lines will factor prominently in a more resilient and capable grid.
“Portfolio theory” applies. At any given moment, grid actors (loads or generators) may be underperforming or outperforming. The more our grid is interconnected and the greater the flexibility across our nation to dynamically balance and optimize, the better.
Consider the following scenarios to understand why these capabilities are so valuable.
When the wind is howling in Texas, we can ship excess production north, east and west… wherever it is most needed to service loads. Or, we might signal EV fleets and stationary storage across the country to accelerate charging.
When those same turbines lie still, excess production can be imported from the most cost-effective neighboring sources such as solar from Arizona, hydro from Colorado, demand management headroom from the Midwest, energy storage in Oklahoma, wind in the Dakotas, and so on.
Beyond covering production deficits and excess, interregional transmission lines can be used to address some seasonality issues of renewable production sources. They can also be used to service time of day peaks in neighboring regions before or after they occur in the local market, which may prove valuable in balancing out Duck Curve ramping issues.
It’s important that new lines and old implement increasingly modern security measures and smart flexibility. Investments and upgrades need to be made so that major interconnects are optimized to balance the grid according to market signals and operating envelopes based on real-time, measured network assessments. These investments are critical so that interconnects don’t become an easy target for malicious or even accidental destabilization of the entire grid.
Consider this. To create the Internet, our communications network required major upgrades to communication hubs and data centers with new, sophisticated and secure capabilities. Cisco routers. State-of-the-art security technologies. Akamai caching. These technologies (along with a host of others) played a leading role in the transformation of our communications network.
We need similar investments and upgrades for our energy network too. We need that to create the Enernet. Our network of nationwide, high voltage “energy routers” and “electron hubs” are incredibly important assets for grid stability and operation.
Utility Scale Storage
Energy storage is a critical asset to deliver resilience, support national security, and balance energy flows. In fact, energy storage is probably top of list in terms of priority to modernize our grid.
It is important to note that one size doesn’t fit all. Again, a portfolio of different storage assets and approaches ensures the greatest flexibility and security.
Storage focus starts with investment in utility scale storage plants that deploy large-scale batteries as new peak servicing facilities. These buildouts modernize the grid with more flexible technology, replacing traditional peaker plants with energy storage instead of coal or gas. Much better than coal or gas, storage at scale can be used to absorb generation excesss, in addition to serving load peaks.
Buildout of pumped hydro at scale presents another major opportunity because it can serve over longer duration and help with seasonality issues associated with renewables. Pumped hydro potentially gets more interesting when coupled with investments in desalination infrastructure along places like the California coastline. The combination of pumped hydro and desalination plants might also offer energy management opportunities, including acceleration (as a sink) of both production and pumping at moments of excess production and deceleration (as a demand management tool) of both to create headroom in demand.
Lastly, utility scale solar need not mean centralized. Highly distributed energy storage may be most strategic and valuable to the grid. When aggregated, decentralized storage can present utility scale contribution but with exceptional flexibility, resilience and opportunity. In fact, distributed energy storage offers perhaps the most promise for grid balancing, resilience, new economic models and national security. Because these assets are not physically centralized, it is difficult to nullify them with a simple assault on a facility. The distribution of energy storage also allows cities to weave dynamic energy routing and balancing throughout neighborhoods, allowing the network to isolate issues and mitigate them in real time.
Highly distributed storage deployments can also be coordinated in concert with rollout of new smart city technologies to maximize resilience and accelerate recovery from calamitous events. That alone presents massive economic upside and relevance beyond energy investment alone. Together, such investments promise to provide an economic platform for growth of future services including, security, autonomous vehicles, drones and more.
Electrification of Transportation
Deployment of electric transportation infrastructure presents several opportunities to diversify the grid and deploy new balancing capability. Opportunities exist around charging infrastructure for consumer, commercial and industrial uses. Such buildout includes both wired and wireless charging at: government facilities, ports, airports, interstate rest stops, parks, schools, and throughout municipalities.
Done right, EV charging can be built at scale to stabilize the grid and better integrate renewables. While a lot of attention has been placed on EV (dis)charging to service peak loads on the grid, perhaps the greater value may lie in using EV charging networks to absorb peak generation and generation excesses. These capabilities are likely to be particularly useful in the vicinity of massive solar and wind generation facilities.
Worth noting, significant investment also stands to be made into stationary information systems and services to support autonomous fleets and buildout thereof. In fact, Ohio is ahead of the game. Recognizing the importance and the opportunity, the Ohio DOT recently announced plans to invest heavily in autonomous vehicle infrastructure. GovTech also recently noted that, “for autonomous driving to evolve from a sci-fi, futuristic possibility to widespread reality, the technology outside the car will be as critical as the technology inside the car.”
“Bury the Wires”
Lastly, an oldie but a goodie. Job-creating investment can be made to upgrade and bury wires across the nation’s grid. With that work, we can install new distributed energy nodes to make the grid more dynamic, “bi-directional” and self-healing, so that failures in one place are less likely to drive broad outages. This act alone takes storms, trees and squirrels out of the picture as grid threats for the most part. Of course, the errant backhoe and adventurous tree root can always create problems, but as a matter of probability, much less so. If we’re smart when we bury the wires, we also bury plenty of fiber alongside it.
The list above presents a meaty set of projects to tackle. All will create meaningful jobs, create an infinitely more dynamic and secure grid, maintain our international position as the leader in energy, and lay the groundwork for the next generation of our economy’s growth.
It should be noted that the evolution of our energy network into the Enernet won’t happen by infrastructure investment alone. Strategic investments need to be paired with smart policy to support and accelerate outcomes. In the next post, “Power Policy to Modernize the Grid”, I’ll dig into policy recommendations for the policies necessary to drive outcomes.
- McClatchy: Trump Team Compiles Infrastructure Priority List
- Future Structure: Ohio DOT to Heavily Invest in Autonomous Vehicle Infrastructure
- TechCrunch: If Trump Wants an Easy Policy Win, He Should Focus on Funding Smart Cities
- Future Structure: Reliable, Connected Infrastructure Is Vital to the Future of Autonomous Vehicles