Saturday, December 19, 2015

Will the U.S. Finally Get a Unified Power Grid?

Three Become One: The Tres Amigas superstation, now under construction outside Clovis, N.M., aims to interconnect the three main power grids of North America. Once finished, it will be able to move up to 20 gigawatts of electricity in any direction. (Illustration Credit: Elias Stein) Click to Enlarge.
It is a decades-old dream: a single, vast North American electric grid, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Mexico to the Arctic Circle.  Such a continent-wide supergrid would let officials transmit the tens of gigawatts of wind-generated power from the Great Plains to cities on both coasts.  It would let Pacific Northwest hydropower flow to Chicago and let Texas wind power find its way to Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Montana.  The benefits, measured in financial and reliability terms, would be fantastic.  And yet despite many studies and even several attempts to create such a grid, it has never been achieved.  The technology and the political will have been lacking.

This year, though, engineers will make a major stride in the former.  An ambitious project known as Tres Amigas, eight years in the making, is finally getting under way.  Eventually it will link the three largest North American grids: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection, which together cover the lower 48 states plus 8 Canadian provinces. Tres Amigas, located in eastern New Mexico, where the three grids converge, will be a transmission “superstation,” able to transfer up to 20 gigawatts of electricity in almost any direction.

Last November, construction workers began building the first piece of the first phase of the project: a 56-kilometer transmission line to connect three new wind farms to the superstation site and then to the Blackwater substation, which connects to the Western grid.  The 345-kilovolt line is scheduled to be electrified by the end of this year; Blackwater will also be upgraded to handle the added capacity of up to 500 megawatts of wind power.

The ultimate plan, with an estimated price tag of US $1.6 billion, is to construct three more lines to substations in Texas, one of which connects to the Texas grid (usually referred to as ERCOT, the acronym for the entity that runs it, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas), and the other two connecting to the Eastern grid.

Read more at Will the U.S. Finally Get a Unified Power Grid?

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