The Path to Drawdown: Grid Expansion
Solving climate change and remaining below 1.5ºC of global temperature increase requires a massive scaling of emissions-free energy sources. And thankfully, renewable sources like solar and wind are quickly expanding their capacity worldwide. But to reliably provide renewable energy to every household and organization in the world, we need a power grid that’s much bigger and more flexible.
The power grid is the dynamic network of electricity generation, transmission, storage, and consumption that 85% of the world relies on. But its initial design for constant, centralized power production is not conducive to the intermittency of solar and wind power. For the world’s electricity supply to become completely renewable, the power grid has to become more adaptable than it is today. A range of technologies -- constant renewables like geothermal and nuclear, utility-scale energy storage systems, batteries, and smart appliances -- contribute to grid flexibility.
The power grid also needs to expand to facilitate a transition to a predominantly renewable world. Where the grid spans larger geographies and more electricity sources, it can even out the total output and variability of renewables. Electricity generated in California during the summer can then be used to power houses in snowy Chicago during the winter. To achieve this scale, the IEA estimates that, between 2020 and 2030, around 16 million km of distribution and transmission lines need to be built, an increase of 80% compared with the past decade.