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The challenges facing the Nation’s energy system have substantially shifted in the last one hundred years and will continue to evolve. Yet, today’s grid cannot adequately support 21st century challenges —including the integration of new clean energy sources and growing transportation and building electrification — while remaining resilient in the face of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change. The power grid is the backbone of the nation’s electricity system, and it must adapt to maintain reliability and resiliency.

On October 30, 2023, DOE released the National Transmission Needs Study, an assessment of existing data and current and near-term future transmission needs through 2040. The Needs Study is an assessment of publicly available information and more than 120 recently published reports that consider historic and anticipated future needs given a range of electricity demand, public policy, and market conditions. The Needs Study is not intended to displace existing transmission planning processes and is not intended to identify specific transmission solutions to address identified needs, but it does identify key national needs that can inform investments and planning decisions.  

Formerly known as the National Electric Transmission Congestion Study (Congestion Study), the Needs Study serves as DOE’s triennial state of the grid report and fulfills a Congressional requirement to conduct assessments of national electric transmission capacity constraints and congestion not less frequently than once every 3 years. Whereas previous Congestion Studies were limited to consider only historic transmission constraints and congestion, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) expanded the scope of this Study to consider both historic and anticipated future capacity constraints and transmission congestion that could adversely affect consumers.

The challenges facing the Nation’s energy system have substantially shifted in the last one hundred years and will continue to evolve. Yet, today’s grid cannot adequately support 21st century challenges —including the integration of new clean energy sources and growing transportation and building electrification — while remaining resilient in the face of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change. The power grid is the backbone of the nation’s electricity system, and it must adapt to maintain reliability and resiliency.

Key findings of the Needs Study include the following:

1. There is a pressing need for additional transmission infrastructure.

Nearly all regions in the United States would gain improved reliability and resilience from additional transmission investments. Some regions have acute reliability and resilience needs which additional transmission deployment can address.

Areas of several regions endure consistently high prices, most notably in the Plains, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New York, and California. Additional transmission to bring cost-effective generation to demand in these high-priced locations would help lower prices.

Regions with historically high levels of within-region congestion — the Northwest, Mountain, Texas, and New York regions in particular — as well as regions with unscheduled flows that pose reliability risks — California, Northwest, Mountain, and Southwest regions — need additional, strategically placed transmission deployment to reduce this congestion.

2. Increasing interregional transmission results in the largest benefits.

Historically, the largest benefit in new interregional transfer capacity additions is between the three interconnections – between the Mountain and Plains, Texas and Delta, Southwest and Texas, and the Plains and Texas regions. Large interregional transmission benefit is also found between the Plains and Midwest and between the Plains and Delta regions.

3. Needs will shift over time.

The clean energy transformation, evolving regional demand, and increasingly extreme weather events must all be accommodated by the future power grid.

Significant within-region transmission deployment is needed as soon as 2030 in the Plains, Midwest, and Texas regions. By 2040, large deployments will also be needed in the Mountain, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions.

The same is true for interregional transmission deployment. In 2030 large relative deployments are needed between the Delta and Plains, Midwest and Plains, and between the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. By 2040 there is a significant need for new interregional transmission between nearly all regions.

The findings of this Needs Study are intended to inform regional and interregional planning, as well as help guide the Department in the execution of its transmission-related authorities. The Department understands the factors that drive industry transmission planning today and the entities and institutions that perform such planning. This Needs Study is not meant to displace these planning processes or the reliability standards they address. Rather, the Department believes it will be an important addition to overall industry and government planning efforts to reduce transmission congestion and capacity constraints that adversely affect consumers.

This Needs Study assesses the multiple drivers of current and anticipated transmission system needs within and across geographic regions, and it underscores the national commonalities of transmission need as the power sector continues to evolve. The findings of this Needs Study also highlight the potential for additional or upgraded transmission infrastructure to address multiple power sector needs and to generate a wide range of cross-cutting value. The Department expects that transmission planning entities will find it useful to consider these findings to explore a wider set of transmission infrastructure benefits in their respective planning processes and consider evaluating the benefits of potential future transmission facilities together as part of proposed project portiolios rather than evaluating benefits on an incremental project-by-project basis. As demonstrated by findings and resources in this Needs Study, holistic, multivalue transmission expansion planning can allow for transmission solutions to meet multiple planning objectives and can lead to a more efficiently planned, cost-effective bulk power system.

This Needs Study also provides an assessment of anticipated transmission needs and value under various future transmission system considerations, including forecasted increases in variable energy generation, extreme weather events, and load growth, among others. For example, findings highlight the complexities of planning for future energy systems with increased variable and distributed energy resources (DERs) that are due to policy and consumer demand drivers and the value of transmission in accommodating such a future resource mix. Similarly, recent experience with extreme weather events demonstrates that planning for the bulk power system needs to extend beyond the footprint of individual utilities or regions to provide assurance that energy can be delivered from where it is available to where it is needed to mitigate risks associated with common mode failures. The Department notes transmission planning entities may use these Needs Study findings as an informative basis to conduct more granular, scenario-based transmission studies with longer planning horizons to inform more comprehensive planning assessments. Transmission planning efforts may also consider the findings of this Needs Study to reevaluate the historic weather data used in system planning and ensure it includes the type and frequency of extreme events likely to occur more regularly in the future. Further, transmission planning entities can consider if internal plans for transmission development will meet the anticipated transmission and interregional transfer capacity needs identified by national capacity expansion models aggregated in this Needs Study. If future transmission plans do not match general trends in published findings of transmission need and the results of multi-scenario capacity expansion models, planning scenarios can be modified to beter capture future power sector projections.

In addition to assessments of transmission need and benefits, this Needs Study recognizes and considers additional factors not traditionally captured by more narrowly focused transmission planning processes, including flexibility and optionality considerations. As a result, the Department notes transmission planning entities may wish to consider alternative transmission solutions as part of existing planning processes.12 For example, alternative transmission solutions, such as grid-enhancing technologies, have been deployed on the existing grid to enhance asset utilization, mitigate curtailments of generation resources, and beter manage congestion paterns. Leveraging emerging technologies to increase operators’ visibility of power system flows and status of critical components can serve to improve grid security while maintaining reliability and making capacity available to alleviate constraints at lower cost.

Transmission planning entities may also find this Needs Study helpful in guiding coordinated transmission planning and development efforts across systems and regions. These Needs Study findings identify the challenges and value of planning interregional transmission, as well as the geographic regions most in need of increased interregional transmission capacity. These findings can serve as a foundation for transmission planners to harmonize transmission planning processes with neighboring planning authorities and increase coordination and collaboration to develop joint transmission studies and interregional solutions.

States would also benefit from incorporating the findings contained in this Needs Study into their own regulatory and planning processes given their key role in guiding transmission planning efforts through resource procurement targets or through state-led solicitations for transmission infrastructure, as well as their ability to influence regional planning authority transmission planning decision-making through participation in stakeholder processes. Further, states and local governments would also benefit from incorporating the findings contained in this Needs Study in their respective transmission siting and approval processes. As demonstrated by this Needs Study, transmission needs and potential solutions are otien regional and interregional in nature and therefore do not begin or end at state boundaries, making collaboration among states critical. States can consider the regional transmission needs discussed in this study and coordinate with neighboring states to identify, plan, approve, and advocate for transmission solutions that both advance state-level policy goals and broader electricity consumer needs. Similarly, states may collaborate among themselves and with regional planning authorities and federal agencies to facilitate cost-effective interregional transmission.

Please submit any inquiries on the Needs Study to NeedsStudy.Comments@hq.doe.gov
Study: https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2023-10/National_Transmission_Needs_Study_2023.pdf [294 pages]
Press release: https://www.energy.gov/gdo/national-transmission-needs-study
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-24898

NYT, Energy Dept. Pours Billions Into Power Grids but Warns It’s Not Enough https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/30/climate/energy-department-electric-grid.html

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