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The US Needs a Macrogrid to Move Electricity From Areas That Make it to Areas That Need it

Posted Apr 12, 2021

Many kinds of extreme events can disrupt electricity service, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, extreme cold and extended droughts. Major disasters can leave thousands of people in the dark. The Texas deep freeze in February knocked out 40% of the state’s electric generating capacity.

During such events, unaffected regions may have power to spare. For example, during the February blackouts in Texas, utilities were generating electricity from hydropower in the Pacific Northwest, natural gas in the Northeast, wind on the northern Plains and solar power in the Southwest.

Today it’s not possible to move electricity seamlessly from one end of the U.S. to the other. But over the past decade, researchers at national laboratories and universities have been working closely with industry engineers to design an interstate electricity system that can. And President Biden’s infrastructure plan would move in this direction by allocating billions of dollars to build high-voltage transmission lines that can “move cheaper, cleaner electricity to where it is needed most.”

Iowa State University Professor of Electrical Engineering James McCalley’s research focuses on electric power systems. Iowa State scholars worked to quantify the benefits that macrogrids can bring to the U.S. These high-capacity transmission systems interconnect energy resources and areas of high electricity demand, known as load centers, across large geographic regions.

Read McCalley’s full article in The Conversation here.