Grid reliability managers acknowledge that many improvements in the existing electrical transmission system are required to maintain over all system stability, and to serve new customers. Required improvements in the existing grid are estimated to cost somewhere in the $100 billion range. Many grid improvements are require whether or not renewable penetrate deeply into the grid.
Nuclear Green favors the use of local rather distant generation capacity, because reliance on local capacity decreases grid complexity, and thus is consistent with reliability. Eric J. Lerner states:
. . . limited use of long-distance connections aided system reliability, because the physical complexities of power transmission rise rapidly as distance and the complexity of interconnections grow. Power in an electric network does not travel along a set path, as coal does, for example. When utility A agrees to send electricity to utility B, utility A increases the amount of power generated while utility B decreases production or has an increased demand. The power then flows from the “source” (A) to the “sink” (B) along all the paths that can connect them. This means that changes in generation and transmission at any point in the system will change loads on generators and transmission lines at every other point—often in ways not anticipated or easily controlled . . .
Accounts of the August 2003 blackout in the North East suggest the fragility of the grid, especially when stressed. Yesterday I noted that renewables dominated transmission system holds the potential for disaster, and its reliability cannot be judged without sophisticated multi-demintional modeling tools. Yet renewables advocate, using the slogan, "smart grid," are touting just such a questionable grid expansion. The "Smart Grid" slogan should not be associated with the most urgently needed grid upgrades and improvements, however. Indeed much of the so called "smart grid" investment has nothing to do with the use of electronic management tools in grid management tasks. Rather proposals for the direction of massive amounts of electricity from remote wind and solar facilities to consumers hundreds and even thousands of miles away. The "smart grid" can up the cost of transmission system improvements to as high as two trillion dollars.
Clearly then managing grid upgrade costs will be a significant future tasks for grid modeling tools, whether or not a renewables dominated grid is ever built. Construction of a nuclear dominated grid, while offering a low cost alternative to a renewables dominated grid, still is likely to strain financial, materials, and labor resources for some time to come. Grid improvements must be prioritized, because we may not be capable of doing everything at once. Rather that building many large new transmission projects, a more economical approach to new power construction would use existing grid resources when ever possible, until construction peaks. Some less urgent but still desirable grid improvements should be deferred until the construction of post-carbon generation capacity decreases. Sophisticated modeling tools will help in determining priorities in transmission system improvements.
What we need is not just a smart grid, but smart grid design, that focuses on making intelligent choices about both generation capacity and the electrical transmission system.