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Why Does the Interconnection Process Take So Long?

Transmission Lines

What is Interconnection?

Interconnection is the process of connecting a power plant to the electrical grid and enabling energy transfer to consumers. This process first starts with power plants producing energy from sources including fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable sources. The energy from these power plants is fed into a substation and then distributed via high voltage transmission lines. Another substation then steps down the power to lower voltages that can be used by consumers. Distribution lines deliver electricity from the substations to necessary consumption points such as houses, supermarkets, offices, etc.

What is the Interconnection Queue?

The interconnection queue is a collection of power generation and transmission projects waiting for approval to connect to the electrical grid. These projects may include solar, wind, battery energy storage systems, hydroelectric, and gas projects. The interconnection queue backlog has substantially grown with the increase in renewable energy adoption. As of 2023 solar, wind, and battery energy storage occupy the large majority of projects waiting in the interconnection queue. At the end of 2023, there was a total capacity of 2.598 terawatts of power waiting in the interconnection queue. This compares to the 1.279 terawatts of US power generation capacity available at the same time. With more than two times the amount of currently active power generation capacity stuck in the interconnection queue, the current backlog is sidelining potential energy capacity primarily from renewable sources.


How Long Does the Interconnection Process Take?

As of 2023, the average project will wait in the interconnection queue for over five years. This represents an average wait time increase of two years since 2015. With the push for renewable energy adoption stronger than ever before, the interconnection queue backlog is in desperate need of a catalyst.

Why is Causing This Increased Demand for Power?

As the US adopts widespread innovation such as artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, data centers and manufacturing, the demand for energy is increasing dramatically. Such innovations require much larger amounts of energy than the current grid is capable of generating and distributing. As adoption continues, the likelihood of power outages and other issues with the grid increases. With the average Tesla requiring 3,566 kWh for a full charge and larger vehicles such as the Ford F-150 Lightning requiring 7,274 kWh for a full charge, massive grid improvements are needed to combat the growing adoption of such vehicles. On top of this, training large language models such as ChatGPT 3.5 is estimated to use just under 1,300,000 kWh. This is the same amount that is consumed annually by around 130 homes. With new artificial intelligence bots and softwares being developed constantly, the grid is likely to face increased strain with the continued adoption of artificial intelligence.

What Improvements Need to Be Made?

In order to increase the speed of the interconnection process, many improvements need to be made. For starters, the grid infrastructure is aging and needs upgrades. The most pressing upgrade deals with new, more capable transmission lines. The expansion of transmission lines is central to the health of the grid as they are the primary parts needed to move energy from one location to another. On top of this, the implementation of SMART grid technologies offer an innovative way to optimize and stabilize the grid. SMART grids automate the electrical grid through real-time monitoring in order to minimize costs and distribute energy to areas most in need. While these improvements seem simple, their implementation will be cost intensive and timely.

What Are the Barriers to Grid Improvement?

There are several barriers associated with widespread grid improvement. These barriers include the lack of connection between the three main grids in the US, public opposition due to property interference, cybersecurity risk with increased grid automation, lack of compatibility with legacy grid infrastructure, and high costs associated with grid improvements. WIthout proper planning and mitigation, these barriers can prolong the process of grid improvements, further increasing interconnection queue wait times.

As demand for energy grows, so will the need for grid improvements. Without such improvements, the interconnection queue backlog will continue to pile up, leading to longer wait time for projects in the queue. As of now, the power generation capacity is far behind the demand for energy. Without planning and mitigation, this problem will only continue to increase in the future as innovations such as artificial intelligence and electric vehicles continue to become more prominent.

Please reach out to us at Renewable Land if you have a solar, wind, or battery storage lease you are interested in selling or if you have been approached about leasing your property to a renewable energy project and have questions.

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