In the first half of 2022, the United States achieved 24% utility-scale electricity generation from renewable sources according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). This was an increase of 3% from the same time last year and the highest percentage of electricity generation from renewable sources to date.
Following this news, TRC’s Matthew Beaton, Senior Vice President of Renewables, answers some key questions and provides additional insights to help utilities and developers overcome many of the inherent challenges associated with an increase in renewable generation in order to continue this upward momentum. Matt leads TRC’s Renewable Energy Delivery Team, an integrated early-stage project development solutions platform focusing on solar, storage, land-based wind, offshore wind and other renewable technologies. Prior to working for TRC, Matt held a variety of roles including Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Chairman of the MA Water Resources Authority, MA Energy Facilities Siting Board and the MA Clean Energy Center.
Q: What has enabled the increasing levels of renewable energy in the U.S?
A: There are a variety of factors that have culminated to achieve this level, but primarily the combination of financial incentives and technological advancements. The reality is that policies, such as state incentive programs and federal Investment Tax Credits (ITC) and Production Tax Credits (PTC), drive markets. The market fuels itself, developing the critical mass to drive technological advancements, efficiency improvements and larger scale projects. Then the levelized cost of energy drops over time, building more momentum. It’s really the aggregate of all these things happening at the same time to achieve the type of results we see today.
Q: What are the most common issues that utilities face today when trying to increase their utility-scale renewable generation?
A: This can vary greatly depending on the utility and its specific regulatory environment, but the issue we see the most are the challenges inherent with the siting and interconnection processes. Today, utilities find themselves in a situation where they have a large quantity of potential renewable generation sitting in queue waiting to get integrated into the grid. With each of these interconnections, we continue to accelerate the transition from centralized (one way flow of energy) to a decentralized generation (multi-way flow of energy), which adds a lot of complication not only from a power flow perspective, but also from a safety perspective. To fully understand the impact of these distributed assets, utilities must perform interconnection studies for adequate system planning and proper protection and control – basically to determine how every piece of the system comes together and how to automate the system.
The utility must be able to track and control all these distributed assets to control the multidimensional flow of energy on the grid. This issue is further complicated as these renewable projects are being built further from the load center where there is often less infrastructure which means more upgrades are needed to the grid such as additional transmission lines, substation assets, etc.
Furthermore, renewable generation is more variable than historical, carbon-based generation sources. There are times when the sun isn’t shining, and the wind may not be blowing. This variability and timing of resources can further complicate the management of the grid and require an increase in the redundancy of resources needed to ensure grid capacity. That is why these interconnection studies are so critical to prevent issues with grid capacity and resiliency.
The challenge today is the sheer volume of renewable projects have maxed out utility resources. At TRC, we support many of our utility partners with these types of interconnection studies from system planning to system design to protection and control.
Q: What are some of the toughest challenges the industry will face as we continue to increase our renewable energy sources and how can TRC help?
A: Transmission! Transmission is the biggest obstacle ahead of the industry, particularly when you are talking about utility scale renewable energy —think large offshore wind installations. Our current infrastructure is inadequate to accommodate the ever growing amount of generation from these new generation sources in the locations where they are being developed. And with any transmission infrastructure project, permitting can be very difficult. Everyone needs transmission, but no one wants it in their backyard!
At TRC, we are very well known for our expertise in transmission engineering, substation engineering, construction management and system studies, which all help our clients design and engineer their transmission infrastructure. But we also support our clients with their right-of-way challenges like land acquisition, routing and permitting, surveys, land services and even biological studies.
The reality is, like any major change in the energy transition, the growth of renewable energy is going to come with several challenges. Fortunately, TRC is poised to meet those challenges and guide our clients through them on a case-by-case basis. Every development, location, and project are completely different and requires a unique understanding of the local requirements and technological services. At TRC we are committed to helping our clients solve these challenges to deliver safe, reliable energy.
Check out our Integrated Renewable Energy Development Solutions here.
For more information on TRC’s capabilities contact Matt Beaton at email@example.com.