Modern Infrastructure Means a Modern Electric Grid

By the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

As the solar industry continues to grow and America moves toward a bright, clean energy future, there is a critical need to ensure that our electricity grid can keep up. Right now, we have a historic opportunity to uplift any American society by cultivating a clean energy economy, but we need bold infrastructure investments to support it with technological solutions and a 21st century electrical network.

UPS energy storage project in California. Photo courtesy of Jamie Dickerson and EDF Renewables.

Today’s network was designed and built to house old, obsolete fossil fuel plants. These large central generators and the electrical supply system around them are now holding our nation back from reaching its sheer energy potential. Combined with worsening storms that have the ability to shut down transmission lines and cut off power for several weeks, we need to quickly invest in modern grid infrastructure for both distributed solar and grid scale projects.

As power markets move toward renewable energy at a historic pace, access to high-voltage transmission lines remains important. These lines are responsible for moving the electricity from which electricity is generated to households and businesses where it is used. Utility-scale solar projects can drive tens of thousands of homes, but the limited availability of transmission lines continues to prevent large-scale photovoltaic systems.

Large solar and storage projects can also provide grid services, but need a modern, flexible grid that allows grid operators to make quick adjustments to clean energy sources. With increased transmission access and the right communication technologies in place, large solar and storage projects can be a valuable source of backup power and can even help us restart the network when there is a system outage.

Solar can help us increase the network’s reliability and resilience, but we must first have these projects online. Transmission fee deductions and increased authority for FERC for site transmission can help us build this critical infrastructure and get solar and storage projects online faster.

We also need to maximize the benefits of local, distributed solar and on-site storage assets.

Our network must be equipped with 21st century technology that enables two-way power flow and increases the emission of solar and storage assets. This will be an essential part of distributed energy resource aggregation, which collects excess energy from residential and commercial solar projects and makes it available to the grid when needed most, helping to increase system-wide reliability and increase community resilience. We also need to prepare for the rapid electrification of our transport sector, which will inevitably include more solar and storage projects of all sizes, but also newer and synergistic technologies such as network vehicles.

All of these communication technologies will rely on the Internet and emphasize the importance of increasing broadband accessibility for any community regardless of their resources or zip code. In addition, continued investment in power electronics will help make solar energy the most reliable and secure energy resource on the grid.

A more modern network also has the potential to create incredible economic prosperity throughout our nation, driving job creation and clean growth in clean energy in all 50 states. The Biden administration recently published a study showing that solar cells have the potential to power 40% of the country’s electricity by 2035, but our congressmen must act today if we are to realize that vision.

The Congress and the Biden administration must prioritize policies that modernize the network and expand transmission in the infrastructure package. This is an opportunity in a generation we cannot miss if we want to lead the world in clean energy and compete on a global scale.

It’s time for leaders in Washington to step up and pay an advance on our future with clean energy.

Learn more about SEIA’s infrastructure policy priorities.

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