Perhaps the biggest issue right now, Rand says, is that there’s no easy way to figure out how to move renewable energy from point A to point B . Part of the problem is finding ways to connect new projects to the existing grid. It’s as if there are too many renewable planes for the number of gates at the energy airport terminal. “Let’s say you want to build a 200-megawatt solar farm and there's a substation down the road,” Rand says, describing a typical scenario faced by a renewable energy developer. “No problem, I'm just going to plug into that substation. But it's not quite that simple, because when you inject 200 megawatts or any significant capacity of electricity into the grid system, it's going to cause impacts. You might need to upgrade the network, you might need to upgrade transmission lines, you might need to upgrade the substation in order to inject that capacity there.”
Those upgrades could include new transmission lines that can handle an increase in power without overheating , which can damage the lines themselves, and without causing a reduction of electricity across the length of the line. Of course, someone has to pay for these upgrades, and many state utility regulators don’t want to pass the cost on to ratepayers. At the same time, many renewable energy developers don’t want to pay for upgrades that might benefit existing fossil fuel producers.Another part of the backup comes from the reviews needed to study this maze of electrical connections. Each of the nation’s system operators (there’s one each for California and Texas, and multistate operators for the remainder of the US) have to approve any new energy project, whether it’s a wind farm or a coal-fired power plant. This includes reviewing studies that assess the environmental and economic effects of the project, as well as how the extra energy may affect the grid, how reliable it is during peak times, and how the new power source will respond to outages or bad weather.