US Could Update Grid With Technique Other Nations Use

'Reconductoring' can double lines' capacity, adding room for wind and solar
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2024 6:31 PM CDT
US Could Update Grid With Technique Other Nations Use
Electrical grid towers are seen during a heat wave, when temperature reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit, in Pasadena, California, in 2022.   (AP Photo/John Antczak, File)

The US added just 251 miles of high-voltage transmission lines last year, another in a series of declines, though the nation greatly needs more power. The process is slowed by as much as a decade by the need for approval from various governments and agencies, as well as to address lawsuits over potential damage to views and ecosystems. Two reports issued Tuesday suggest the US is overlooking a technique used in other countries that could double the electric grid's capacity in many parts of the country, the New York Times reports.

"Advanced reconductoring" basically refers to replacing old power lines with newer models that have smaller, lighter cores such as carbon fiber and hold more aluminum. These lines can carry twice the current that older lines do. The change is being made in Belgium, the Netherlands, and other nations to provide room for more wind and solar power. "We talked with the transmission system planners over there and they all said this is a no-brainer," said Emilia Chojkiewicz of the University of California, Berkeley, who cowrote one of the reports. "It's often difficult to get new rights of way for lines, and reconductoring is much faster."

The other report, from GridLab and Energy Innovation, a nonprofit, looked at why more US utilities aren't already doing this. An executive for Southern California Edison, one of the largest utilities in the US, said there are questions about how much of the need this approach will meet but said, "We agree that advanced conductors are going to be very, very useful." A Berkeley scientist called reconductoring a start, per the Times. "It's not the only thing we need to do to upgrade the grid, but it can be a major part of the solution," Amol Phadke said. (More power grid stories.)

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