05-15 solar and wind projects

[Image above] Connecting solar and wind power projects to the electrical grid faces numerous challenges. A new roadmap outlines solutions to make this process easier. Credit: Kenueone, Pixabay

Many discussions involving clean energy focus on the deployment of infrastructure to generate and store energy from solar and wind projects. But for these projects to contribute to the overall energy ecosystem, the generated energy must be transmitted to where it’s needed. And connecting clean energy to the electrical grid is an often-underappreciated challenge.

For one, many parts of the grid are not equipped to handle the additional power generated by clean energy projects, as explained in the video below. So, more transmission and distribution lines need to be built before connecting these projects to the grid.

Credit: Vox, YouTube

Even when grid capacity is not an obstacle, the traditional algorithms and configuration settings used for power conversion do not always play nicely with clean energy systems, as the video below demonstrates. So, grid infrastructure needs to be adapted to work with the new inputs.

Credit: Practical Engineering, YouTube

In April 2024, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released a report stating that nearly 2,600 gigawatts of generation and storage capacity are actively seeking grid interconnection, which represents an eight-fold increase since 2014. More than 95% of this demand comes from zero-carbon projects, such as solar, wind, and battery storage.

To address this backlog and ensure a smoother path for future interconnections, the Biden Administration through the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X) project in June 2022. This project, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, brings together partners across government and industry to develop solutions for faster, simpler, and fairer interconnection of clean energy resources while boosting the reliability, security, and resiliency of the electric grid.

In October 2022, DOE announced that experts from the Wind Energy Technologies and Solar Energy Technologies offices, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory would collaborate with participating i2X organizations to develop a 5-year roadmap outlining solutions to speed up interconnection and clear the existing project backlog.

On April 17, 2024, DOE released the proposed roadmap. It includes four target metrics for 2030 that can be measured using publicly available data:

  • Decreasing average time from interconnection request to interconnection agreement for completed projects to less than 12 months.
  • Lowering the variance of interconnection costs for all projects to less than $150 per kilowatt.
  • Increasing completion rates for projects that enter the facility study phase to greater than 70%.
  • Eliminating annual North American Electric Reliability Corporation disturbance events involving unexpected tripping of inverter-based resources that are not identified in analysis due to inaccurate models.

To achieve these target metrics, DOE called attention to several funding opportunities that support the implementation of solutions outlined in the roadmap. For example,

  • The Grid Innovation Program provides $5 billion for fiscal years 2022–2026 to support projects that use innovative approaches to transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure.
  • DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office and Wind Energy Technologies Office released a $10 million funding opportunity for analytical tools and approaches to accelerate interconnection.
  • The Loan Programs Office, through the Title 17 Clean Energy Financing Program, seeks to finance energy infrastructure projects, including transmission infrastructure investments.

A webinar overviewing the roadmap took place on May 14. Four more webinars are planned to take place in the coming months.

With the transmission roadmap now complete, DOE is working on a companion roadmap that focuses on the distribution grid. DOE expects to release a draft of this roadmap in the coming months.