In my Green State column in Grist this week, I talk to Ryan Pletka, a renewable energy expert at engineering and consulting firm Black & Veatch, who has been conducting economic analysis for California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative. The rapid evolution of the solar market has prompted Pletka to rethink the the need for massive new transmission projects in California:
California’s ambitious goal of obtaining a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 has spawned a green energy boom with thousands of megawatts of solar, wind, and biomass power plants planned for … the middle of nowhere.
And therein lies the elephant in the green room: transmission. Connecting solar farms and geothermal plants in the Mojave Desert and wind farms in the Tehachapis to coastal metropolises means building a massive new transmission system. The cost for 13 major new power lines would top $15.7 billion, according to a report released in August by the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative.
The initiative, called RETI, is an attempt to build a statewide green grid in an environmentally sensitive way that will avoid the years-long legal battles that have short-circuited past transmission projects.
But the rapidly evolving solar photovoltaic market may moot the need for some of those expensive and contentious transmission lines, requiring transmission planners to rethink their long-term plans, according to Black & Veatch, the giant consulting and engineering firm that does economic analysis for RETI.
In short, solar panel prices have plummeted so much as to make viable the prospect of generating gigawatts of electricity from rooftops and photovoltaic farms built near cities.
“This has pretty significant implications in terms of transmission planning,” Ryan Pletka, Black & Veatch’s renewable energy project manager, told me last week. “What we thought would happen in a five-year time frame has happened in one year.”
You can read the rest of the column here.