Jul 21, 2009

The SmartGrid expensive boondoggle... needs a brain

A Costly and Unnecessary New Electricity Grid
A national interstate system for distributing power may prove an expensive boondoggle.

Energy experts generally agree that the electrical grid in the United States needs to be upgraded if the country is to increase its use of renewable-energy sources like wind power and significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

But plans to string new high-voltage lines to bring wind power from the midsection of the country to the coasts, where most of the demand is, could be expensive and unnecessary, and a distraction from more urgent needs, some experts say.

A new national grid, which has been likened to the Interstate Highway System constructed in the 1950s, has been proposed by groups such as the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, and AEP, a large utility; elements of the plans have been included in recent federal legislation.

But such a plan is "only a dream," says Paul Joskow, president of the Sloan Foundation and a professor of economics at MIT.

"It's expensive. It's politically contentious. In the end, I think you're better off spending the money on other things."

A national system would also be expensive. A study by the utility AEP suggests that a new national system of 19,000 miles of high-voltage lines would cost $60 billion. It's unclear whether the costs of such a system will be competitive with other approaches to reducing emissions, says Steven Hauser, vice president of grid integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO. "It may be cost effective to build it from North Dakota to Chicago; building it to Boston or to Los Angeles may not," he says. "From a cost point of view, where's the point of no return?"

What's more, advances in technology could change the economics involved and make long-distance wind transmission projects obsolete. For example, far-offshore wind farms could be located just a few dozen miles from major cities and provide wind power that is cheaper and more reliable than wind farms on land.

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Pic Source G.E. & smartgridnews