Renewables Dominate Interconnection Queues, Outstrip U.S. Capacity: Berkeley Lab

April 19, 2022

by Peter Maloney
April 19, 2022

The total of renewable generation and energy storage seeking to connect to the electric power grid is greater than existing installed capacity on the United States, according to a new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

There was a total of 1,400 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in interconnection queues across the country as of year-end 2021, of which 1,300 GW was solar, wind and energy storge capacity, according to the report, Queued Up: Characteristics of Power Plants Seeking Transmission Interconnection. The installed capacity of the United States is 1,200 GW.

Although not all the projects are likely to reach fruition, the total still represents a milestone. “The sheer volume of clean energy capacity in the queues is remarkable,” Joseph Rand, a senior scientific engineering associate at LBNL, said in a statement. “It suggests that a huge transition is underway, with solar and storage taking a lead role.”

Researchers at LBNL compiled and analyzed data from the seven organized electricity markets in the U.S. and additional 35 utilities outside of those regions, which collectively represent over 85% of all U.S. electricity load.

Rand pointed out that the amount of solar, wind, and storage in the queues today is roughly the same amount needed to derive to 80 percent of U.S. electricity from zero-carbon resources by 2030.

The Biden administration has set a goal of creating a carbon dioxide pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050 to combat climate change.

“The trends in these interconnection queues suggest that developers are eager to meet this ambition, though they may face some headwinds,” Rand said.

Available historical data shows that only 23 percent of the projects seeking connection from 2000 to 2016 reached commercial operations and completion percentages appear to be declining in recent years and are lower for wind and solar than for other resources, the report’s authors noted. In addition, they said, interconnection wait times are rising.

Available data show that the time required from an initial connection request to a project being operational increased from 2.1 years for projects built in 2000-2010 to 3.7 years for those built in 2011-2021, according to the report. With the dramatically increasing volume of submitted projects, developers and grid operators alike are sounding alarms about backlogs in the queues, the report’s authors said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has initiated an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to study and address interconnection issues, and new research from the Department of addresses the importance of improved planning and policies for transmission and interconnection to facilitate higher levels of clean energy sources.

Of the capacity now in interconnection queues, solar power represents the largest share, with 676 GW. There is also a substantial amount of wind power in interconnection queues, 247 GW, including 77 GW of offshore wind power capacity. And the amount of energy storage in interconnection queues doubled in one year, hitting 427 GW at year-end 2021, the report said.

The proposed solar power projects are widely distributed across the United States, with 147 GW in the PJM Interconnection, 139 GW in the non-ISO West, and 112 GW in the Midcontinent ISO (MISO), according to the report.

Proposed wind power projects are highest in the non-ISO West at 49 GW, followed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) with 43 GW, and the New York ISO with 41 GW, which are main offshore wind projects, the report said.

The data showed that proposed wind capacity has shrunk in some historically dominant wind regions such as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and SPP, but has grown in other areas, particularly those with proposed offshore wind projects such as NYISO, PJM, California and New England.

The capacity of proposed energy storage projects is highest in the California ISO (CAISO) at 136 GW, the non-ISO West at 122 GW, PJM at 54 GW, and ERCOT at 43 GW. Proposals for new natural gas capacity center on the Southeast with 24 GW and PJM with 17 GW, with less than 10 GW in all other regions, according to LBNL.