World must add or replace 50 million miles of transmission lines: IEA

Heavy electrical transmission lines at the powerful Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located in California’s Mojave Desert at the base of Clark Mountain are viewed near Primm, Nevada, July 15, 2022.

George Rose | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The world has to add or replace 49.7 million miles of transmission lines by 2040 in order for countries to meet their climate goals and to achieve energy security priorities, according to a new report published by the International Energy Agency on Tuesday.

That amount is roughly equivalent to the total number of miles of electric grid that currently exists in the world currently, according to the IEA.

This remarkable scale up in the construction of transmission lines across the globe will require the annual investment in electric grids of more than $600 billion per year by 2030, which is double what current global investment levels are in transmission lines, the IEA says.

It will also require changes in how the electric grid in each country is operated and regulated.

The global focus on some clean energy technologies — including wind, solar, electric vehicles and heat pumps — is impressive, but investment in transmission lines has been insufficient and will ultimately become an ever larger bottleneck, the IEA says.

“The recent clean energy progress we have seen in many countries is unprecedented and cause for optimism, but it could be put in jeopardy if governments and businesses do not come together to ensure the world’s electricity grids are ready for the new global energy economy that is rapidly emerging,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a written statement published alongside the new report.

“This report shows what’s at stake and needs to be done. We must invest in grids today or face gridlock tomorrow,” Birol said.

There are currently 1,500 gigawatts of renewable clean energy projects in what the IEA calls “advanced stages of development” that are waiting to get connected to the electric grid around the world. For some sense of perspective, a mid-size city needs a gigawatt of electricity, Microsoft co-founder and climate investor Bill Gates said in his book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.”

The 1,500 gigawatts of renewable clean energy projects waiting to be connected to the electric grid is five times the total wind and solar power added around the globe in 2022, the IEA says.

Demand for electricity is going to continue to rise as more sectors of the global economy transition to electric power.

Also, the electric grids were constructed to bring electricity from locations where fossil fuels were burned to where that electricity was needed. As the world works to transition toward a clean energy economy, the electric grid will increasingly need to run from where wind and solar farms are constructed to where electricity is used.

The consequences of falling further behind in building transmission lines is dire, the IEA says.

If the electric grid grows slowly, a scenario which…

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