Advanced macro grid initiative announced, with funding support from Bill Gates-backed group

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American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and Americans for a Clean Energy Grid are launching the Macro Grid Initiative — aiming to improve America’s balkanized electricity transmission system and better integrate low-cost renewable energy.

Breakthrough Energy, an organization that Bill Gates formed in 2015 to expand clean energy investment and innovation, will be providing substantial funding for the initiative.

“To respond to the challenge of climate change, we need ambitious investments in our electrical grid. Solar, wind and other renewable energy sources are booming, moving us toward a carbon-free future. But we need a way to connect all this clean energy to our homes. Modernizing our outdated transmission network will create jobs, grow our economy – and allow responsibly sited, cleaner energy to thrive,” Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

For renewable energy developers, new and upgraded transmission lines would mean more interconnection options, Gregory Wetstone, ACORE’s president and CEO said. It would probably also mean more renewable development and deployment because new utility-scale solar and wind projects are often the most affordable sources of power, he added.

Reforming the U.S.’ transmission planning and cost allocation processes will enable more interregional lines to deliver power where it’s needed, allowing grid operators to more easily, effectively and affordably balance power supply, Wetstone said. These are critically important steps in light of the fact that the country’s cleanest, lowest-cost new power sources are often found in more remote areas. The 15 states between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River account for 88% of the U.S.’ wind potential and 56% of the country’s utility-scale solar potential, but these states are home to only 30% of projected 2050 electricity demand.

Achieving the Macro Grid Initiative’s goals will require new policies at the federal, regional and state levels. “We need to help people understand why a Macro Grid is so essential to America’s economic and environmental success. We need to connect the dots that in order to deliver more low-cost clean energy, we need greater interconnection between the nation’s electricity markets,” Wetstone said. “We’re going to need to cultivate public and policymaker support,” he added, noting that some of that education has already begun.

“Our priority areas include an expanded nationwide and eastern grid with a focus on the power market regions of MISO, PJM and SPP; developing and advocating for a fully planned and integrated interregional transmission system; promoting a new FERC transmission planning rule; and enlisting the help of state leaders to advance the next round of regional and interregional transmission planning,” Wetstone said.

Several recent studies have shown the benefits of expanding the nation’s transmission grid. For example, expanding and upgrading interregional transmission lines would help electric utilities, corporate and institutional buyers, and other consumers meet carbon and clean energy goals by affordably and reliably integrating low-cost renewable resources. Enhanced transmission would also facilitate increased electrification and ensure grid reliability in the face of new patterns of electricity demand, and increasing transmission development at the “seams” between regions could save consumers more than $47 billion and return more than $2.50 on every dollar invested. Additionally, a nationwide, high-voltage direct current network optimized for the nation’s best wind and solar resources could deliver 80% carbon emission reductions from the grid by 2030 without adding costs to consumers’ electric bills.