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Optimal transmission expansion minimally reduces decarbonization costs of U.S. electricity


  • Rangrang Zheng
  • Greg Schivley
  • Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez
  • Matthias Fripp
  • Michael J. Roberts


Solar and wind power are cost-competitive with fossil fuels, yet their intermittent nature presents challenges. Significant temporal and geographic differences in land, wind, and solar resources suggest that long-distance transmission could be particularly beneficial. Using a detailed, open-source model, we analyze optimal transmission expansion jointly with storage, generation, and hourly operations across the three primary interconnects in the United States. Transmission expansion offers far more benefits in a high-renewable system than in a system with mostly conventional generation. Yet while an optimal nationwide plan would have more than triple current interregional transmission, transmission decreases the cost of a 100% clean system by only 4% compared to a plan that relies solely on current transmission. Expanding capacity only within existing interconnects can achieve most of these savings. Adjustments to energy storage and generation mix can leverage the current interregional transmission infrastructure to build a clean power system at a reasonable cost.

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  • Rangrang Zheng & Greg Schivley & Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez & Matthias Fripp & Michael J. Roberts, 2024. "Optimal transmission expansion minimally reduces decarbonization costs of U.S. electricity," Papers 2402.14189,
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:2402.14189

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    1. Ross Marshall & Ross Baxter, 2002. "Strategic Routeing and Environmental Impact Assessment for Overhead Electrical Transmission Lines," Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(5), pages 747-764.
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    3. Lucas W. Davis & Catherine Hausman & Nancy L. Rose, 2023. "Transmission Impossible? Prospects for Decarbonizing the US Grid," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 37(4), pages 155-180, Fall.
    4. Mai, Trieu & Bistline, John & Sun, Yinong & Cole, Wesley & Marcy, Cara & Namovicz, Chris & Young, David, 2018. "The role of input assumptions and model structures in projections of variable renewable energy: A multi-model perspective of the U.S. electricity system," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 313-324.
    5. Jayadev, Gopika & Leibowicz, Benjamin D. & Kutanoglu, Erhan, 2020. "U.S. electricity infrastructure of the future: Generation and transmission pathways through 2050," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 260(C).
    6. Sánchez-Pérez, P.A. & Staadecker, Martin & Szinai, Julia & Kurtz, Sarah & Hidalgo-Gonzalez, Patricia, 2022. "Effect of modeled time horizon on quantifying the need for long-duration storage," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 317(C).
    7. Umair Yaqub Qazi, 2022. "Future of Hydrogen as an Alternative Fuel for Next-Generation Industrial Applications; Challenges and Expected Opportunities," Energies, MDPI, vol. 15(13), pages 1-40, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • Q42 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Alternative Energy Sources
    • Q52 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Pollution Control Adoption and Costs; Distributional Effects; Employment Effects

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