When any industry grows as fast as the renewable energy industry, especially wind and solar, there are bound to be unforeseen obstacles. Take the recent polysilicon shortage or the threat of federal solar rebates expiring, for instance. Now, both wind and solar have hit another huge obstacle: the incapacity of the electrical grid. Unfortunately, it is not a problem to look out for, it is already here. According to a New York Times article, at least one wind farm has already had to shut down on one occasion because there was no room to transmit their electricity.
How does this happen?
It starts with location. Wind farms are often located in rural areas, on a decent expanse of land and away from obstructions, and as a result are far away from cities where their electricity is needed most. Existing electric lines are just not equipped to handle this extra volume. Therefore, according to many involved, it ends with infrastructure. As New Mexico governor Bill Richardson put it, “We still have a third world infrastructure.”
The fact is no one has updated the electrical grid in decades. The feds have traditionally left it to the states to take care of, which has been all good and fine, until now. With electricity forced to travel over such long distances, it will have to cross state and utility lines. For instance, the Dakotas are a windy wonderland, so to speak, but without the localized need for that much power. So how do you get electricity from North Dakota to New York City? A lot of working together to create one superhighway of lines â€“ or something. Unfortunately, it appears that nobody is eager to help anybody else out right now. Hence, the sizable hurdle for remote wind and solar power.
Solar power does have one big advantage over wind however. Solar does not need to leave the city. There are millions of rooftops, carports, and parking lots that could easily support solar panels and tie to the grid. To be fair, the problem will, and does, exist for rural solar farms such as those set to be built in the Mojave Desert of the Southwestern United States.
Furthermore, at the present rate of efficiency for solar panels, it will definitely take a lot of space to provide the amount of electricity we want from the sun. So the present, shabby infrastructure is nothing to ignore. In fact, the solution should already be in progress, but it really isn’t. It would appear that the federal government may have to jump in to get things moving. There is nothing more frustrating than figuring out a way to create electricity cleanly and then being unable to use it.