The Path to Drawdown: Grid Expansion
Addressing climate change and staying below 1.5ºC of global temperature rise requires a massive scaling of emissions-free energy sources. Thankfully, renewable sources like solar and wind are quickly expanding their capacity worldwide. But to provide reliable clean 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 today’s power grid, initially designed 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 needs to become more adaptable. Many 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 support a renewable transition. Where the grid spans more geographic areas and more electricity sources, it can even out the total output and variability of renewables. Electricity generated in Texas in 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.