Today we examine a clever idea to bypass conventional transmission siting hassles by running HVDC power lines along rail & roads. One company's actually doing it! (If you don't want to read, you can listen.)
• Burying the lines should also make them more resistant to disruption by solar flares. Also—should we ever reach that point—by the electromagnetic pulses from nuclear explosions, which is something the Pentagon might be concerned about.
• Rather than bury lines *along* highways, maybe do what Los Angeles did with some of their light rail and route it down the median strips. Then no problem with adding outer lanes (which is a bad idea anyway and will probably go away eventually).
• As for grid infrastructure being "bipartisan", color me skeptical about Republican good faith. If they have a central organizing principle, it's demonstrating that government doesn't work, and can't work. Anything that smells like collective action must be resisted!
Thanks for the shout out for Solutionary Rail David! That is much appreciated. Seems like a lot has changed since we started our book in regards to the price of underground HVDC. We've been following the work of Clack and Alexander MacDonald since 2016. The "Two state solution" is brilliant. In the prep of the House Climate Action Plan, Solutionary Rail and Union of Concerned Scientists pushed for inclusion of rail RoW as a prefered use that may also get some preferential inventive from FERC.
One would hope that Buttegieg and Granholm (who knows about Solutionary Rail) can work together to open up possibilities. But they will be well served by expanding their collaboration to include Regan, Haaland, Vilsack and Kerry to solve the multi-disciplinary problems that are unsolvable when government and academia get stuck in their silos.
I mention Haaland because of the issue and opportunity this additional use creates to address of right-of-way justice issues for tribes. More on that at https://www.solutionaryrail.org/rowjustice
Making sure that the utilization of tribal land has the prior and informed consent of the tribes provides an opportunity to begin to acknowledge and address past harms. It also provides an opportunity for tribes to become partners in the infrastructure, both as exporters of renewable energy and for energy sovereignty.
The Class 1 railroads (5 US-based, 2 based in Canada) resist every effort that implies that they have any obligation to the public good. They shutter at the use of the phrase "common carrier" unless it is to excuse their profiting from bomb trains. Despite being long considered regulated monopolies, the fact that they've only continued to consolidate their assets, shed less profitable branchlines, discontinue service to all but the most profitable shippers exposes that they are currently under-regulated - or maybe simply proven that they are unsuited to run an infrastructure so critical to the national interest. Regardless, no one should expect them to jump up and offer RoW out of the goodness of their calcified hearts. They are far more interested in lowering operating ratios and short term profits in service of Wall St. than they are in a long term growth strategy.
I mentioned Regan at the EPA because tough the co-location of transmission does not necessarily relate to electrification of trains or corridors, it does offer an opportunity to connect the dots between diesel pollution from trucks, ports, railyards and health impacts of our current dysfunctional and inefficient freight system. Despite the greenwashing commercials, the Class 1 railroads have no appetite for any meaningful mode shift of freight from trucks to trains. Approximately 1 trillion ton miles of truck freight traveling over 500 miles moves by truck rather than train. That's a lot of wasted fuel, congestion, GHG, accidents, wear and tear that costs the public in lives and treasure. Moving that freight off roads and onto tracks is in the public interest. The capacity isn't there and the railroad companies are about to create it. But were the railroads optimised to be thus utilized (a first priority for decarbonizing freight) that would also elevate the importance of their electrification. Honestly, we should need such an excuse to stop poisoning workers and communities, but greater utilization would serve as such an excuse. The EPA will be an essential driver in this element. (More on mode shift in our initial exploration of this at http://SolutionaryRail.org/msms )
Though Visack at USDA is not friend of the family farmer, the USDA is also a key player in that they are involved in supporting transportation capacity for US agriculture, rural broadband and rural electric coops. All of these have an interest in how US railroads are operated and the corridors utilized.
Finally, as I mentioned above - interdisciplinary problems require interdisciplinary solutions. Perhaps this is how climate czar Kerry can help. I doubt he's ever heard of Solutionary Rail, but with your help, maybe we can change that. Connecting the dots on the most difficult decarbonization problems of long haul freight and using HVDC transmission to stabilize the variability of renewable energy and unlock development of stranded wind and solar potential are inextricably linked. Some sort of grand bargain with the interstate Class 1 RRs may be the only way to address the challenges ahead on a timeline commensurate with the urgency of the crisis (crises).
Thanks DR for the great article. It really does a nice job of outlining the opportunity afforded by underground HVDC. In the article you mentioned that highways are an option. To that end I wanted to call out the NextGen Highways concept (https://theray.org/2020/09/19/next-generation-highways/) being advocated by Morgan Putnam. NextGen Highways would build new transmission and prepare for transportation electrification. Additionally, NextGen Highways would deploy communications infrastructure to improve rural broadband access, to enable greater grid flexibility, and to prepare for connected and autonomous vehicles. Judging by Secretary of Energy nominee Granholm’s comments during her confirmation hearing last week, it sounds like the new administration is interested - see 1:12:25 of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_66Ir8gxFm4&feature=youtu.be
ha, love the two state solution. And Missouri smack dab in the middle with a star of connections every which way... made me immediately recall the useless fourth grade fact that Missouri borders 8 states, more than any other state.
And the two state solution is so interesting. Washington and Oregon might immediately buy in and Oregon might connect to California. California and Nevada would agree and Nevada and Arizona might Agree, but Arizona might refuse to connect to California. But the two state bypasses that squabbling. Idaho and Utah and Wyoming opt out, but Arizona also agrees to connect to New Mexico who also agrees to connect to Colorado. Now Washington to Colorado is connected.
But bridging the next gap eastward is the most difficult. Texas will always refuse, but Colorado would be able to have multiple bidders to play off each other in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and one would probably want the money and jobs. I would bet that Kansas wins because their college football teams weren't rivals or dominant over Colorado's the way that Oklahoma and Nebraska's were.
Once that great plains states hurdle is jumped, connecting to Missouri gets you pretty much a doable avenue to connect to anywhere further east in the US. Very cool and suddenly realistic seeming path to an interconnected grid.
Hahaha, I'm tech support for Tesla industrial battery systems, and a surprisingly large part of my job is troubleshooting the mistakes that contractors make installing the three-phase meters that are part of the controls for our systems. I "understand" reactive power in terms of, I can understand the equations that describe it, and even look at the data I'm getting from a meter and tell you what, most likely, is the wiring error that has resulted in getting weird results. I learned trigonometry in what, tenth grade? That part's easy.
I even _sorta_ get the idea that it's about how the voltage and current waves desynchronize, and that increases the entropic line losses and reduces the useful work you get out of the total power flow. Like, if you wanted to "transmit power" through a water pipe, by basically repeatedly shoving on the water, similar to how a wave pool works, but channeling the energy through a pie; and then in the middle of the pipe, you stuck a big holding tank (capacitance!) there's going to be some kind of loss as the flow pattern shifts, going through the tank, as compared to a nice coherent pressure wave. (Plumbing analogies for electrical power -- voltage as pressure, current as flow -- are imperfect, but they're often _good enough_ to help solve engineering problems.)
The part where imaginary numbers get involved, though, makes my brain hurt, and I just avoid thinking about it. :-D
Very cool. I'd love to hear more about (rhymes with "shout") how Canada factors into Transmission Fortnight. Perhaps a post called, "Transmission fortnight: all about Canada's role in the US National Grid"?
This was absolutely fantastic, thanks for breaking it down. I need to look into this in particular - "The project is privately funded, so there will be no need for any complicated cost-allocation formulas. The financiers (including Siemens, which very rarely puts direct capital in transmission projects) will make their money back from those who use the line — the suppliers that put power on it, the shippers that sell power across it, and the buyers that consume the power — through competitive bidding for capacity."
Does this mean that the project's costs are not recovered through a transmission access charge, levied on ratepayers? This is probably my regional bias speaking, but I haven't heard of a transmission project that hasn't sought to recover its costs through the TAC.
Great introduction to HVDC. I did not realize there were newer (cheaper/better) options for converter stations, nor that the materials for underground lines had progressed so far. Thanks.
I've been looking at oil pipelines. The XL seems perfectly placed to "drain" wind energy from mid-continent resources. Already underground and 36" inches in diameter. Unwise for high sulfer oil transmission over a critical water aquifer but ideal for electrical energy delivery. Any expert response?
Catching up on transmission week(month?) while viscerally experiencing “the grid” in Austin, Tx at the moment.
Anyone know where I can find more plans on interconnection plans for groups like ERCOT? Was surprised to learn that texas had a state wide grid planning organization with public oversight at the level it does (though obviously that didn’t work this week 🙄).
One dynamic that seems to be particularly problematic in Texas is that peak load is planned to be handled by natural gas (NG) power plants. These have been built close to the demand which in someways makes sense, but also seems to have been a bit of a strategy to subsidize NG pipeline projects instead of transmission lines.
So the situation we find ourselves in today is that the pipelines froze and NG power production plummeted right as peak demand hit 🤦. It strikes me that in a smarter grid you’d just put the NG power plants right next to the production sites in west texas and hook them into the grid (not that I want there to be more NG produced/used).
Is there a reason an org like ERCOT has avoided smarter grid planning/investment? It seems like their reason for existing is to plan for exactly this kind of thing.
Has anyone looked much into these lines generating magnetic fields and interfering with car compasses? I found a site that modeled the compass offset w.r.t. distance from a 2000A line, which shows deviations around ~30-15 degrees. https://www.emfs.info/static-fields/static-sources/compasses/
Granted I have to imagine most people know which cardinal direction they’re driving in, but I’m sure some GPSs may get messed up
VSC’s are magical! Using existing Right of Way is such a no brainer. The factoid about anything over 250 miles costing no more to bury than hang is stunning. I was also struck by the 90% utilization rate of the SOO line - geographic diversity is key to reliable power from wind. So much that was new to me is packed into this short podcast. Thanks.
Solutionary electrified rail sounds interesting, but I wonder how it would handle the inherited problem of tunnels and underpasses. One too-low clearance and you're done.
Yay! A hopeful ending. I thought our fortnight would end in an explanation of how gradual descent into oblivion is inevitable for transmission like so many of our other problems.