The Grid Needs A $20 Trillion Upgrade To Support Energy Transition

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Yves here. One hates to point the obvious: the gap between the amount needed to overhaul electrical systems around the world, versus plans and funding to date, translates into “na ga happen” at least on the needed timetable. Yet various initiatives, assuming grid capacity, in classic economist “assume a can opener” mode, proceed apace.

So the implication seems to be that green energy implementation will be patchy and insufficient. But the other shoe, of the need for radical conservation, has yet to drop.

By Irina Slav, a writer for with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry. Originally published at OilPrice

  • Back in 2020, BloombergNEF estimated the cost of a grid overhaul at $14 trillion over the thirty years between 2020 and 2050.
  • In 2023, the cost to upgrade the grid has risen to $21 trillion.
  • Upgrading the global electrical grid comes with a unique set of challenges including local opposition, skill shortages, and a financing problem.

For the energy transition to happen, the world needs massive grid overhauls. This message has been overlooked for years as wind and solar stole the limelight, but now it’s back on the agenda. Because no transition from baseload, dispatchable power generation to distributed, intermittent generation is possible without a massive grid overhaul.

Back in 2020, BloombergNEF estimated the cost of that overhaul at $14 trillion over the thirty years between 2020 and 2050. That’s how much it would cost to build the millions of miles of new transmission lines and associated infrastructure to accommodate the planned surge in wind and solar.

That was in 2020. Now, the price tag for the grid overhaul has risen to some $21 trillion, again, according to BloombergNEF. Because, to achieve net zero by 2050, the world would need to double the length of transmission lines in operation to 152 million km. And this basically means that, as things stand now, we have little chance of reaching net zero by 2050.

To begin with, the money for these massive investments in grid adaptation has to come from somewhere. It can’t all come from government subsidies: new transmission lines cost billions to build. Right now, there are three new electricity transmission projects underway in the United States with a combined price tag of $13 billion.

Then there is local opposition to such projects, which is making takeoff harder still. People don’t like transmission lines passing over their backyards, and that is that. They also don’t like forests having to be cleared for the new line. It’s NIMBY-ism at its best, and there is precious little anyone can do about it except hope it doesn’t progress to the BANANA state: build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.

But suppose money can be found from environmentally concerned investors and governments, and suppose that NIMBY can be treated, perhaps financially. There is a bigger problem than either of these and both of them together. A skill shortage.

There are not enough linemen: the people who build and maintain transmission lines. In places such as Australia, there are not enough people to build the wind and solar installations that the transition to net zero would require. And the rate at which people are acquiring these transition-essential skills is lagging far behind transition plans, as the FT reported earlier this week.

Each of these challenges on their own can derail the transition because they would derail the vital upgrade of the grid. Taken together, they make the transition—at least as currently planned in the West—near impossible to accomplish.

But they are not the most immediate challenges, not to the transition but to our usual way of life. The most immediate challenge is power outages. That’s because, despite the need for a grid update and an adjustment to growing amounts of wind and solar power feeding into it, the balance between baseload and intermittent generation has been shifting in a way that makes the grid unstable.

Simply put, reliable, 24/7 power generation capacity is being retired faster than the grid is being adjusted for intermittent wind and solar—and faster than new wind and solar generation capacity are being built. To say that this is not exactly optimal for a healthy power supply is to put things mildly.

Compared to these challenges, permitting is small potatoes. Regulation can be changed if there is enough momentum driving that change. Yet small or not, permitting procedures are on the list of things preventing the energy transition from taking place in its most important part: the grid.

According to an April report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, there are 1,300 GW of new wind, solar, and storage capacity waiting to be connected to the grid. Yet most of these will not get built at all. Because joining the interconnection queue is only the start of a process that takes years and does not always have a happy ending.

Per the report, “projects must also have agreements with landowners and communities, power purchasers, equipment suppliers, and financiers, and may face transmission upgrade requirements.”

On the surface, the energy transition seems so simple. We simply build a lot of wind turbines and a line up of a lot of solar panels, throw in a battery here and there and switch from gas heaters to heat pumps. We electrify everything we can electrify and discard the rest.

Below the surface, things look very different indeed. There are not enough raw materials to build all that wind and solar capacity, and batteries. There are not enough people to physically complete the buildout. There are not enough people to build the many new transmission lines. The money for all of these things has yet to be secured.

Until all of these problems are solved in a permanent way, net zero will remain a fantasy, and no amount of activism and investor pressure on companies to report their emissions would change this.

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  1. Hector

    To me, having a unified grid across long distances doesn’t seem logical if you want to scale (multiply) the consumption of electricity everywhere. Industries will have to be closer to power storage and generation, use patterns will have to adapt to intermittencies and seasonality. In big cities a regional interconnect (less than 300-400 kms) will be needed, but nothing in the scale of a continent. Also: investment in public transportation, biking, housing insulation, heat pumps, etc… will be needed to reduce the scaling of electricity use.
    But planning officials still think in terms of 20th century technology.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      The need for a unified long-distance grid is driven by the intermittent output of renewables. When one area is running short, it might be possible to surplus power from another region that is producing extra. But this only happens if you have a grid that is big enough to permit inter-region power flows. Without it, energy storage requirements go up.

      For example, back in November, my little corner of Appalachia experienced a bad case of “gray days”. There was continuous cloud coverage, a light drizzly rain, and zero wind for NINE days straight. Most solar arrays produced less than 10% of nameplate rating even at high noon, and the wind turbines were all completely idle. To get through that spell of bad weather without importing power or burning fossil fuels in backup generation systems, we would have needed nine days worth of energy storage.

      If every region must deploy nine days worth of storage, it adds up to something like 150 TWh for the US alone. As a point of reference, worldwide battery manufacturing is something like 0.6 TWh/year, which means that we’d need 250 years of global production for just the US grid. If you toss in the grids of other nations and add the desire for large fleets of electric vehicles that also require batteries, it’s very apparent that the math doesn’t work out for deadlines of 2035 or 2050.

      Power-sharing between the grid sections of a large will reduce the total storage requirements associated with that grid. So you have to add more power lines. It’s an unpleasant trade-off, but we have a much better chance of deploying a lot more transmission lines in less than 250 years than we do of deploying 150 TWh of storage. That’s the reality of a grid based on wind and solar.

      1. TimH

        The fundamental problem is that EVs are going to be charged at night, perhaps 25kWh, when solar isn’t available. A lot of distributed storage is required to source that.

        It would help if point of delivery solar power charged EVs during the day where parked, and EV charging at home at night was adaptive to charge low and long rather than pull 5kW for a short time to top up.

        1. dday

          Here in sunny Tucson I’m seeing lots of solar going in over school and business parking lots, so potentially lots of workers will start charging EV’s at work. And the biggest load is from about 4 PM till 8 at nite, so EV charging after 8 won’t be a deal breaker.

          Wind and solar are somewhat compatible in terms of base load, so that might leave about 20% or so for natural gas, battery storage etc.

          Sun Zia line just got final approval, will bring wind power out of New Mexico west to Arizona and California.

        2. tevhatch

          The problem for the grid is they would prefer, if there must be an EV load, that during the day it is long and low, and at night they can then lay on the quick charge upon demand to help stabilize the grid when power demand suddenly drops off. Peaking and dropping power safely on a grid is no small matter, it’s both running up or running down power equipment rapidly shortens it’s useful life at best and at worst can create conditions for a blackout.

      2. thousand points of green

        @GrumpyEngineer, good energy blog, maybe engineer quality?

        Here is a blog called The Ergosphere by Engineer Poet who seems to be an energy efficiency engineer and maybe an engineer in some field of engineering itself. I am just a layman but it seems good to me. Maybe you would find it worth a look.
        Its most recent post is called: ” why batteries cannot address the intermitency issue of ‘renewables’ ”
        Here is the link:

    2. tevhatch

      We can have a unified grid from LA to Maine, but you can’t dispatch from Maine to LA, beyond economics there are simple physics issues that limit the range of dispatch. UHVDC transmission was created to get around the tight limits of UHVAC, but even there it’s real world limits below the 1000km range. Too much DC distribution also has loads of hazards for the grid, rectifiers fail open or closed much faster than AC equipment.

      1. ex-PFC Chuck

        There are other reasons besides economics that are behind the fact North American does not operate as a unified, synchronous grid. Back in the early 1960s the grid industry tried interconnecting what are now the east (everything in the US and Canada east of the Rockies except Quebec and Texas) and west of that range. Cycling, circulating reactive power flows occurred that raised Hades with system protection schemes and transmission segments frequently tripped out. The experiment didn’t last long.
        Quebec, IIRC, was once a part of the eastern interchange, but because of issues related to the fact most of their generation is far from the load centers and poor ground connections because of the underlying Canadian shield geology they are exceptionally vulnerable to solar flare activity. As for Texas, they have a grid of their own because Texas.
        There are some connections among the grids, but they are AC-DC-AC connections.

        1. tevhatch

          I consider AC-DC interlinks part of grid infrastructure, but by your definition, yes it would be a really technical hard row to hoe.

  2. jbc

    $20 Trillions???

    To the delight of miners no amount of money will be sufficient to cause the missing electrical metals to materialize.

    1. Samuel Conner

      a compelling argument for demand-side conservation.

      The author’s concern about “where will the money come from?” seems misplaced, at least in the context of governments that control their own currency (good luck, EU); the real constraint is “real resources” (which, to be fair, the author does note in terms of the issue of “skilled labor”). Of course, the legal authority to spend in the public interest does not imply that the authorities will have the political will to do that; currently ours do not.

      One hopes that there will be developments in battery technology that might ease the resource constraints on them and make small scale distributed generation and storage more feasible (rooftop solar and in-home storage, for example); that ought (to my, admittedly simple-minded way of thinking) to help ease the pressure on the grid.

      I wonder to what extent hopium of this kind may underlie the neglect of the distribution problem.

      Or is this an example of “loss of executive function” in the West, discussed yesterday by Yves. It’s parallel to the “rotting infrastructure” and “inadequate climate change response” issues.

      1. heresy101

        Demand side conservation can be a huge deal if people and companies are willing to move forward. In South Africa, a major retailer saved $17.5 million by installing 1 million LED bulbs.

        “South Africa’s Shoprite Group is expanding its key environmental programs as part of its sustainability strategy. One of the major components of this strategy is the accelerated rollout of solar PV at its supermarkets and distribution centers, as well as the replacement of old lighting infrastructure with new LED lightbulbs.

        The Shoprite Group has announced that it has reduced its electricity consumption by 11.8% following the installation of 1,001,932 energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs across 1,647 of its supermarkets and distribution centers nationwide. Initiatives like this, when scaled across several sectors across the country, will help ease pressure on the national electricity grid. For the Shoprite Group, the switch to LEDs generated savings of 164 million kWh and R346 million (US$17.5 million) in electricity costs for the Group during its 2022/2023 financial year.”

        Financial payback has to be around a year or two.

        1. James

          Any demand side conservation approach is going to need to address Jevons Paradox. It doesn’t help that my conservative friends froth at the mouth at the very mention of conservation-through-taxation.

          (I took conservation to mean “use less energy” but you guys might be talking about “extract solar energy or such at the periphery of the system. Sorry if I misunderstood you.)

          1. heresy101

            “Jevons paradox is the observation that improved energy efficiency can increase the overall consumption of energy by making an activity cheaper and thus more scalable or accessible.”
            Jevons Paradox doesn’t apply to LEDs. One is not going to spend more to put up more lighting just because it is cheaper. The lights in the South African stores are already in place.

            Our small utility’s load dropped from 450GWh to 355GWh from 2008 to 2018 and a large part of the drop was the installation of LEDs by government, companies, and the public. The population increased by about 8000 during that time.

            1. steve

              The applicable activity prone to Jevon’s Paradox would be the use of the lights. That certainly applies here.

      2. Luc Verbeurgt

        (good luck, EU). In Europe all countries, at least in Western Europe, are already interconnected. For the moment we are building new lines to bring the wind parks in the Nordsee into our grids. Europe is not waiting and discussing but has taken action.

    2. tevhatch

      Yes, that number is a low ball, it’s like military spending. Once foot is in the door, then the grift can be unleashed. Even without the grift, the real number based on the neo-liberal way the USA does things would have to be closer to 100 T. Same on that just maintaining the grid number, large hunks of maintenance money for last 30 years was spent on dividends, take-overs/mergers and other non-productive activities. This is one reason why I quit myself of the USA, I was no willing to engage in graft and I could see the market for engineering services shrinking.

      Everyone knows the money is just being created, so the race / competition is how to steal/fenagle/skim it off faster than everyone else. Remember if the market is making a 20% profit, then a margin of 12% means you’re losing at the clip of 8% – Das Capital, Bae-be!

  3. KD

    People do not appreciate what a great deal the United States is getting in Ukraine. For a couple hundred billion dollars, you can kill off something like a 1.0 million electrical consumers in Eastern Europe. If the US invested even 1.0 Trillion dollars in provoking and funding continental ground wars in Asia, Africa, ME and Eastern Europe, we could easily kill off a billion+ people, vastly reducing electrical demand worldwide. Further, there are domestically enough crazy polarized blowhards that probably with a fraction of the investment, you could get a dirty war going for a fraction of what it would cost to upgrade the grid. Funding former far-right groups like Azov Battalion are particularly good for achieving ecological purification, provided the ADL gives them a clean bill of health first. The Blobs commitment to electrical demand reduction is far more cost-efficient, and as long as it didn’t impact the quality of life in Fairfax, VA or Long Beach, CA, why would anyone care? /sarc

    1. GramSci

      One wonders if Europe will care when, as Revenant intimates below, their grids collapse in this summer’s first heat wave. They lucked out with a mild winter, but it’s the luck of a drunk at the roulette wheel.

  4. timbers

    President Biden (or Nuland Blinken Milley whatever): “What’s an energy grid? A new weapon under development for Ukraine?” The supposed readout of what India’s Modi said to Zelensky at G7 is a real show stopper shocker, a weathervane of the world moment, followed by Z standing up Lulu because Z couldn’t believe his ears and his tail was between his legs and he couldn’t bear to hear the truth yet again. The USA has lost the world. The REAL Whole World.

  5. Revenant

    The article is interesting for its laying out the overall challenge but disappointing in its Eeyorish neoliberalism. It is impossible to imagine the end of capitalism etc. per “The Vampire’s Castle” and so the critique of the inadequate efforts is nevertheless seated in neoliberal.

    For example:
    – why cannot it not be done with government subsidy? Governments are not constrained from spending in their own currency. We all know about MMT even if some here may disagree with it as a solution or even as a description. Reflex “taxpayers’ money” arguments are increasing hard to bear and posts should have an MMT sensitivity warning, please! Also, I think the UK Public Works Loan Fund makes soft loans to public bodies with reference to the Budget, I think it is pure money creation (but I would welcome being corrected). Unfortunately several local authorities have chosen to leverage up and buy commercial property rather than invest in infrastructure!

    – the only constraints are real constraints, like linesmen availability. But if there was a recruitment drive and high pay and parallel provision of training (so providers would invest in running the courses), you would soon create linesmen and a year or two of delay is nothing in a projection to 2050. It is a vocational qualification for secondary school educated people, not something requiring freaks of nature or nurture like Olympic gymnastics, parfumerie or the identification of bryophytes (notoriously hard botany niche).

    I would worry more about the lack of raw materials and manufacturing than the finance or people, which are soft constraints. I would also worry that the loss of dispatchable power is happening too quickly for any programme of works to prevent grid instability.

    1. Samuel Conner

      > posts should have an MMT sensitivity warning,

      I think that part of the idea of posting “contains useful information but is also flawed at places” pieces like this is to exercise the Commentariat — to help keep our critical thinking skills sharp.

      Perhaps also to see whether we’re actually reading the articles — a metric of site engagement.

      And if the Commentariat is in good form at noting flaws, it reduces the burden on the site Principals to post warnings of the kind you suggest. I think the Principals are exceedingly busy.

  6. Riverchurningclam

    The Radical Conservation shoe would drop faster if Yves and others advocating RC would be more specific about what that would involve. I assume they mean something more than getting bigger recycling wheelie-bins for suburban homes, or more “Honey I shrunk my ecological footprint” YouTube videos.

    When I Google “radical conservation” I get lots of articles from radical humanists bitching and moaning about the late E.O. Wilson’s “Nature Needs Half” proposal, but I suspect this, too, is not what Yves has in mind.

    I think I can suss out the general idea of radical conservation from reading the content here on Naked Capitalism, but I’m kind of literal-minded (and most of the people I interact with are definitely literal-minded), so a substantive list of things to work/agitate for will go a longer way toward dropping that shoe.

    1. Louis Fyne

      —The Radical Conservation shoe would drop faster if Yves and others advocating RC would be more specific about what that would involve—

      “radical conservation” = party in power gets swept away and doesn’t come back for 10 years, irrespective of whatever culture war/identity politics buttons get pushed by the media.

      Or more specifically….>100% increase in petrol prices, animal protein, utilities (water-power-heat), tube socks, etc.

      Naturally wih such a stagflation-ary price shock, the economic gets the worst of both worlds: severe inflation/shortages and a deflationary crash due to declining after-inflation wages + high extant consumer and business leverage.

    2. Grebo

      Energy use must be reduced by 50%. That’s even if we fully build out renewables. This implies that GDP must also be reduced by 50%, that’s why it’s ‘radical’.

      1. Jorge

        In California, over the past 50 or so years, we have driven our watt-per-GDP value down to half of what it was. This is why you in the other 49 states buy LED lights for your house, because we had to first.

        Ok, maybe it’s not actually watt-per-GDP. Maybe it’s watt-per-GDP-increase. But, the point is that we have invested a lot in conservation and it has paid off. I do not know what is the curve of this RoI, and I suspect it is slowing: we had easy targets 50 years ago (incandescent light bulbs) and the politically palatable low-hanging fruit is mostly picked over.

        Unpalatable low-hanging fruit: paint all the buildings white like in North Africa. I’ve heard a SWAG estimate of 15% drop in electrical usage in dense areas of Southern California.

        1. Odysseus

          paint all the buildings white like in North Africa

          The efficacy of white paint will depend heavily on what your seasons look like. Chicago has nearly 6000 heating degree days every year and only 1000 cooling degree days.

          One would infer that high temperatures are not the major danger which needs to be managed in that city.

          1991-2020 Monthly and Yearly Normals for Chicago and Rockford

    3. Henry Moon Pie

      I’m a degrowther, and I have the same question. We can say, “Shut down private jets,” but how much would that help?

      My exploration of Project Drawdown has just begun, but the people involved are generally respected among degrowthers, so I’m recommending it conditionally here. Drawdown is a 10 year-old effort to answer your question and mine. The link takes you to a page where Project Drawdown discusses its approach and then lists under the Table of Solutions hundreds of solutions with information about impact, etc. There is even staging of the solutions.

      There’s also a link on that page to information about their recommended solutions in different sectors like agriculture and transportation.

      We’ve handled this very badly, or should I say the billionaires’ lust for more money has all but doomed us? At this point, groups should be forming to preserve some essential technologies like the medical improvements in the past century in the process of childbirth while improving skills in growing food, maintenance and repair, and medical practice more reliant on plants and other local resources for medicines. It’s really a question of how far back we go. James Howard Kunstler’s vision is located somewhere in the 1800s. If we continue with Business As Usual right up until collapse, we could be figuring out how to make bronze again.

  7. The Rev Kev

    So the grid needs a $20 trillion upgrade in the coming years? OK. I have no faith that such an undertaking could be done in good faith under a neoliberal regime, meaning that blackouts will become the norm in the coming years. So if this is true of the electrical grid, how about the water grid? You can go weeks or even years without electricity but you can’t do that with water. So even if there is large scale work started on the electrical grid, it must always take a back seat to the water grid. Even if you put aside the factor of drinking water for the population, can anything be grown or even manufactured without water? So that upgrade for the electrical grid will have to take second place.

    1. ScottB

      Which implies in turn a revolution in how we grow food. We lose a fair amount of our breadbasket when the Oglalla aquifer hits bottom, along with the Imperial and San Joaquin valleys in California…

  8. Cetra Ess

    I think it should be pointed out the grid is ancient, needs overhaul anyway. It’s the same with how the US has built more road than rail infrastructure, in retrospect it was a fundamental mistake in approach.

    There may be a better way of getting there than expecting $20T to magically fall out of the sky for an overhaul project.

    I don’t know about the US but in Canada our hospitals, fire and police departments tend to have a hydrogen fuel cell (or other types of) generator in case of blackouts. This came about as a result of the eastern seaboard blackout and are capable of powering entire city blocks, even though they’re not set up to. However, if every community bought one, and they’re not expensive, say in the name of resiliency or power continuity, then the changes needing to be made to the grid to make it happen are also the same changes that would create the needed power distribution structural overhaul. For one thing, it converts the community grid into a smart grid, at the very least sensing power drops and triggering the generator to compensate.

    Which is a fundamental first step toward inherent load balancing.

    Now, if this were in place for a majority of communities, let’s call every 100,000 homes a cell in the grid, now give each or some of those cells energy storage capacity.

    And now work out a regulatory framework where if one cell in the grid goes down, nearby cells automatically send power to assist. And when own-cell supplies dip, likewise can receive power from neighbours.

    So, baby steps, I would suggest convincing communities to purchase a backup generator in case of blackout may be a way of getting this whole thing started? If we rely on someone coming up with $70T, as you say, not going to happen.

    1. tevhatch

      This came about as a result of the eastern seaboard blackout and are capable of powering entire city blocks, even though they’re not set up to.

      I wonder if the gas mains, primary utility storage tanks, etc. are sized to support the load if it’s area wide blackouts. Storage of gas is expensive compared to liquids, and I doubt fuel cells could power more than emergency services at a hospital at an affordable cost, stand-by ICE, particularly diesel/gas hybrids is more likely.

    2. Susan the other

      Thank you. This is really good information. I was going to suggest decentralization but this actually decentralizes the grid but maintains logical connections. And would be better at controlling climate catastrophes, etc. I’d guess that it would be easier to maintain as well. That’s one thing that is assumed but never itemized and it’s looking like big elaborate maintenance needs are a point of failure in a world of ever scarcer raw materials. Plus doing things like requiring all future buildings to be passive solar.

    3. tevhatch

      another message attempt, AI be dammed.

      “And now work out a regulatory framework where if one cell in the grid goes down, nearby cells automatically send power to assist. And when own-cell supplies dip, likewise can receive power from neighbors.”

      This is exactly how electric grids work world wide. However, the technology to make a huge number of power sources stable on the grid is a trick. (They’d also make working on the grid to repair/restore power inherently dangerous without equally intensive lockout practices) The grid is a lean machine as electricity in wires can’t be stored, only apparent energy in turning turbines, batteries, etc. One of the horrors for grid operators with solar power is exactly that they can not store any apparent energy and are inherently instable, pushing costs and increasing maintenance on those other operators who can.

  9. DJ's Locker

    So we set CO2 targets that we don’t have the time, technology, money, materials or people to implement. That is so extraordinarily and obviously stupid that it must be by design. Whose?

    1. Screwball

      By people who don’t have a clue, or if they do, they know there are people stupider than they are will believe them. I know quite a few.

      1. DJ's Locker

        Sadly I think they do have a clue and there is a vast pool of “useful idiots” at their disposal.

  10. upstater

    The New York Power Authority is the largest state owned utility in the US. It built in the 50s and operates massive hydro plants on the Niagara and St Lawrence Rivers and transmission. It is like TVA or Bonneville.

    Until this legislative session it was cut out of the renewables boom in NYS. Under Cuomo’s 2018 energy program PE and “investors” have the charter for development. Blackstone is the principal in the Champlain-Hudson Power Express, a HVDC underwater cable “toll road” to bring Quebec hydro to NYC.

    NYPA, of course, could have done all these things as a public benefit, they’ve been there and done that. NY State has tremendous undeveloped potential for pump storage hydro (NYPA operates 2), but none is planned AFIK. Pump storage is like a battery, helps mitigatethe intermittancy of PV or wind and is dispatchable. I would make so much sense, which is why China is leading the world with pump storage.

    But like Yves’ or Aurelien’s pieces yesterday the elites are incapable of building things. Extraction provides a sugar high.

  11. Prairie Bear

    I have shared Bright Green Lies here before, so I hope it’s OK to do it again. It seems to be the definitive work on this topic. The authors show the work, repeatedly and exhaustively on all their assertions, and repeatedly say that they will be glad to hear arguments that they are wrong.

    The result of showing all that work is a book that is a bit of a doorstop at 500 pages, give or take. An introduction can be had in less time with the documentary made by Julia Barnes.

    1. Prairie Bear

      A correction to my comment above, specifically the first link, which should have been to the book (second link is doc film). I was using and old iPad that can be somewhat flaky while having coffee and lost the page before I could finish editing. Apologies for any confusion.

  12. Altandmain

    I suspect that this is going to be a catalyst for more nuclear fission reactors.

    Renewable energy requires too much in transmission and energy storage (as wind and solar are intermittent).

    China and Russia increasingly have this market cornered.

    In the long run, the most important solution, which will be a multidecade project, will be nuclear fusion. It will take trillions of dollars and be the biggest investment in human history.

    As far as grid updates, I suspect that if it is a money issue, it will be added to the debt and would bring the US debt to GDP to WW2 levels. If it is an available natural resources issue, that’s a bigger challenge to solve and will require the scaling of mining operations on top of money. Of course, if nuclear power is used rather than renewable energy, it is likely that the grid updates needed can be more modest.

    The big issue is that the US is losing basic competence, as other articles have indicated here. I would say that it is far more likely that China and Russia will play a bigger role in the future decades in addressing the world’s major energy problems.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Odds are (in my opinion) that we’ll see mass brownouts in places like California (heat wave) and Massachusetts (polar vortex) before a new fission reactor is commissioned.

      That’s the level of inertia needed to overcome the legal-PR challenges to fission

      1. JonnyJames

        Yeah, we (California) already have plenty of power outages and “rolling blackouts” already. PGE calls the planned outages “public safety” power outages.

        Instead of investing (as required by so-called law) in maintaining infrastructure, they simply shut off the power when the wind blows.

  13. David in Friday Harbor

    Links recently shared a Toyota Motor Sales USA dealer flyer explaining why Toyota isn’t going all-in on Battery Electric Vehicles. Toyota points out that the goal of banning Combustion-Engine Vehicles by 2035 would require building-out U.S. fast charging stations at the rate of 400 charge points a day — we are currently building 50 or fewer per day due to the limitations outlined above by Ms. Slav.

    Meanwhile improving living standards in China and India now proportionally account for fully 50 percent more of current CO2 emissions than the U.S. and Europe combined. They aren’t going to lift a finger to build-out capacity for the west. After decades of exploitation and demonization why should they be expected to — even if the American war-machine could divert its blood-sucker to purchasing their production of batteries and wire?

    All this talk about a Green Transformation and/or Radical Conservation is so much magical thinking and hopium. We’re going to start seeing more electrical blackouts. The wealthy can make the neoliberal/libertarian transition to personal power backup systems. The U.S. and E.U. general public will be left to suffer in darkness from the heat, the cold, lack of transport, and food and medicine spoilage.

    Perhaps not tomorrow, but this is the future we face.

    1. heresy101

      Regarding Toyota not going to battery electric cars, look at China where 30% of the cars are all electric today and will be 80-90% in five or six years. Toyota doesn’t make any electric cars in China; the ones they are selling are made by Chinese companies.
      All the Japanese car companies make mostly ICE vehicles that now don’t meet the 2017 air pollution regulations and will have to stop selling them by the end of the year. There are 2-4 million cars that legacy car makers are going to have to dump and may go bankrupt because of that. A large number of auto dealers have already gone bankrupt.
      If you want to make a bundle go short on Nissan and Mazda and then take those winnings and short Toyota who have a $200B debt that they won’t be able to cover because they refuse to make electric cars.

  14. Peter

    I think a lot of folks are missing a key point. It will not COST to renew the grid, it is an investment NOT a cost. In fact, when you look at any of the numbers 20T, 30T, or 40T it is by far the greatest investment of all time. In some cases, the return is under 5 years (20% return) and even if 10 years that is 10% PLUS the bonus is saving the only planet we have to live on.
    Also, STOP talking about anything to do with 2050 – it is far too late – we have to set a goal for 2030 and maybe it goes to 2035 – fine. But if your goal is 2050 it will be 2060 or later and 2050 is too late anyhow.
    For the good news look at the work that Tony Seba does at ESPECIALLY how and why good things will happen much faster than we think, that is because most humans think in a linear manner, but a total transformation of society ( horse to car, old phone to cell phone, Kodak film to digital ) all are disruptive paradigm shifts ( slow at first then sudden acceleration, as occurred in the 3 examples. To forecast a paradigm shift that is NOT LINEAR you need to utilize something call S-Curves which DO NOT measure linear growth but parabolic growth which is clearly not linear. See, it is brilliant and FAR more accurate. With far more detail on S-Curves.

  15. Matthew G. Saroff

    If there is any lesson from the past 30 years of privatization and financialization of utilities, it is that in order to have a robust grid that meets the needs of the country, it needs to be owned and operated by the government.

  16. JonnyJames

    And a glaring case in point is the state of California. The home of “silicon valley” and the techno totalitarian revolution has an electrical grid that is the butt of jokes.

    A few days ago, a California judge dismissed a (another) case of criminal negligence against PG&E, a protected monopoly, supposedly regulated by the CPUC. PG&E is TBTF and clearly above the law. They can literally kill people and get away with it (and keep their millions in salaries/bonuses). Who says crime doesn’t pay?

    Their criminal asset-stripping has resulted in pipeline explosions, and many fires that have resulted in many deaths and thousands of homes and acres burned.

    Now no major insurance will write new policies in Cal, so we will pay the price-gouge of the most expensive electricity in the US, and pay extortionate insurance.

    Are things getting corrupt enough for us?

    Oh well, nothing to see here, no infrastructure improvement. Gov. Newsom is a slick-talking liar and hypocrite extraordinaire – he clearly does not give a toss about climate change or environmental destruction. But he’s tall and handsome, so that’s OK

    1. some guy

      I remember visiting San Francisco about 20 years ago for an extended family wedding. I then spent a few extra days in a hostel there. I took a little half-day tour with some other people in a van to 3 different wineries and Muir Woods and a stop or two on the way back.

      My impression was basically ” California is so amazingly beautiful, no wonder so many people want to live here and come to live here. And they will endure all kinds of abuse to stay here and the authorities know it.” Between that and my impression of the inhuman coldness of the average San Franciscans made me grateful I did not live in California and determined to never ever have to live there.

      And it occurred to me . . . where in America would millions of Californians never ever want to live if California collapsed so severely that 10 or 20 million Californians felt they had to flee BETS ( Back East of The Sierra)? And I decided those were the places I would want to live in/ retire to so I wouldn’t ever have to deal with a flood of millions of Californian refugees. (Of course more recently, a lot of those places have begun to disappear behind the Gilead Curtain and are becoming unliveable for non-Gileadinians due to the Gilead Plan to encourage millions of non-Gileadinians to leave in waves of forced brain eviction.)

      1. JonnyJames

        Yes, Hell-A (LA) and Frisco are terrible places to live, IMO. I live on the north coast, far away from
        Instead of “back east”, I would want to get out of the country altogether. Not sure what the Gilead curtain is, but if I am going to leave my home, I will leave the country, unless they block the borders.
        They built “the wall” to keep gringos from escaping when things get ugly.

        1. some guy

          So far I think it is more of a concept than an actual list. And by “Californian”, I find myself thinking mainly of the Greater Bay Areans and the Ell Ayvians. ( The Inland Imperials might have a very different ” okay list” of where to go.)

          I can’t imagine very many people from San Frisco or Ell Ayy wanting to live in Kansas or Nebraska or the Dakotas or most of Minnesota or Iowa, for example. So those are places I would not expect a flood of California refugees.

          Perhaps polling companies can start asking thousands and then millions of Californians questions along the lines of . . . if you had to live in a state other than California, which state or states would you rather not have to live in? And such research might be the starting point of developing such a list.

          1. Jorge

            But really I’m intrigued by the phrase the inhuman coldness of the average San Franciscans. If this was 20 years ago, that’s early oughts. You caught the place after a boom&bust cycle left behind shattered dreams and bank accounts. I lived in SF in the late 90s at the height of the dot-com boom, and it was a mighty fun time for an IT pro. Since then it still has not really recovered; the continued influx of money has poisoned Frisco. When I go there now I’m still shocked to find a parking spot; there were none 25 years ago. It feels like there are 20% fewer residents and cars in the busy eastern side.

            Cali demographics are Bay Area & LA & San Diego high-density, mid-state ag and eastern mountain people. The mid-state ag zone, where I grew up, is culturally descended from Grapes of Wrath immigrants. Growing up, I knew a woman who was a Grapes of Wrath child; I didn’t know enough at that time to ask her about it, and she generally didn’t want to talk about it anyway.

            Inland Empire (eastern Southern Cali) is generally angry suburbanites and poor people pushed out of LA and Orange County; the central & northern Cali Sierra Nevada are definitely mountain people. My brother moved up there and started wineries. It’s always a shock driving up there: all white, all skinny. (The obesity epidemic is strongly correlated with topography; the Flatlands are the Fatlands.)

            Politically, Cali is a one-party state, which means we don’t have the public honesty that contested elections provide. But since its Demos, we do have abortion and Medi-Cal.

            If I was to move (retiring to a low-tax state) I would go to eastern Washington. It’s dry and upland from the rising oceans, has water power from Idaho rivers, etc. etc.

  17. some guy

    Some years ago on a blog somewhere, someone wrote that America needs vast fluxes of power and renewable energy could never supply that.

    And it occurred to me that if America needed vast fluxes of power and renewables would only ever supply a half-vast amount of power, perhaps the answer is to cut America’s power use in half, from vast to half-vast.
    Because if America cut its power needs in half, then the problem would go from vast to half-vast. So the half-vast solution known as renewables might be good enough for the half-vast problem of powering America if America cut its power use in half.

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