A few weeks ago we mentioned commentary by John Harrell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance asserting that the “last thing renewable energy needs right now are new transmission lines.” The ILSR has a recent study suggesting the almost every state could be energy self sufficient relying only on in-state renewable power sources. I remarked, “While I agree that ‘local self-reliance’ in energy may be possible, I don’t think most people are willing to pay the price of such extreme energy independence.”
Comes now Tom Konrad at the Clean Energy Wonk blog who takes a long hard look at the price of local renewable energy self-reliance as conceived of by the ILSR. The short version of Konrad’s assessment is that (1) the high levels of renewable power proposed will require support from substantial quantities of relatively expensive energy storage, and (2) that transmission can reduce the amount of storage needed. Those two points, combined with reasonable estimates of the costs of transmission and storage, reveals that the energy storage + long-distance transmission approach dramatically reduces the cost of pursuing widespread renewable power deployment. (The full version of Konrad’s assessment provides a more complete takedown of the ILSR’s “Heresy on Transmission.”)
In other words, a little extra long-distance transmission investment would go a long way toward making the ILSR’s vision of widespread renewable power an attainable system.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think either vision is way-out-of-the-ballpark crazy for the foreseeable future. Still, there is a difference between “astronauts landing on Mars” crazy, and “astronauts landing on Pluto” crazy. Both are way, way out of the ballpark at present, but one will always be way more economical than the other.
[Konrad also blogs at clean energy investing site Alt Energy Stocks.]