Construction of wind and solar farms, battery storage facilities, and EV charging stations is soaring thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. $370 billion in subsidies are now earmarked specifically for renewable energy projects across the U.S.
There is, however, another huge building block in renewable energy construction – updating existing power grids to handle the robust influx of new electricity.
What Is The Problem With Renewable Energy Construction In The U.S.?
Renewables construction is growing faster than the existing electric infrastructure’s capacity to utilize it. As CNBC recently reported, more than 70% of the U.S. energy grid is over 70 years old.
“The energy transition poised for takeoff in the United States amid record investment in wind, solar and other low-carbon technologies is facing a serious obstacle: The volume of projects has overwhelmed the nation’s antiquated systems to connect new sources of electricity to homes and businesses.” – The New York Times, Updated, June 20, 2023
The other issue is that our regionalized power grid structure was designed to transmit power from fossil fuel sources; to take it from a coal mine or a dam to where it will be used, so it is ill-suited for expanded capacity or renewable sources, like the wind farms Paul Denholm of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory references below.
“We have been able to build a fair amount of wind and solar without adding new transmission, but we’re really kind of running up to the limits, especially for wind, because there’s not a whole lot of transmission located in the places in the country where it’s super windy. So, we absolutely do need to build more transmission to tap into those super-high quality wind resources, particularly in the middle of the country.” – Paul Denholm of NREL, February, 2023
You could look at all of this as a problem, which it certainly is: stalled projects and demand for retooling outpacing capacity. Or you could see it as we do at GPRS:, an opportunity.
The Solution: Turning Problems Into Opportunities For Both Grid & Job Growth
While the disconnect between, “antiquated systems” and green energy plans can leave projects stuck in the development pipeline, all of the United States’ three major grid regions – and- more than 15 sub-regional power grids – will need to be updated, renovated, and retooled. That presents an enormous opportunity for green building contractors, and for infrastructure visualization specialists like GPRS.
John Incorvaia is one of the green energy experts leading the charge. The GPRS Market Segment Leader for Renewables said,
“T-lines” refers to electric transmission lines. They are the ropes of wires looping through the giant, 120-foot-tall metal skeletons that dot the landscape across the country. These T-lines then offshoot to more localized transmission lines, which are still above ground on “utility poles” throughout the nation. Regardless of anything else that must be done to update the nation’s power grid, adding hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines to carry all that new, green energy is job #1.
Every one of those new lines will either need to be buried underground or require a vast array of transmission towers that must be securely anchored to withstand the height of the tower and the elements.
There are seven types of foundations used for transmission towers:
- Steel grillage
- Concrete spread footing
- Concrete auger or caisson
- Pile foundation
- Rock foundation
- Raft foundation
- Novel foundations
Regardless of the foundational structure, each tower requires a weight-bearing load of 200-300 (metric) tons, or 253 standard tons (506,150 lbs.), to support the structure and the electrical line load.*
So, you have to have to go deep, whether you are excavating for a transmission tower foundation or burying lines. According to the State of California, where a lot of renewable grid updating is happening, you’ve got to dig as much 30 ft. down for lattice steel towers (LSTs), and 60 ft. down for tubular steel poles (TSPs), although these depths vary state to state and can depend on the condition of the terrain and soil involved. A tower is required every 950 ft. on average to support transmission lines.
To bury new transmission lines, a much larger cable bundle must be buried 8-10 ft. below ground in a 10-foot-wide trench that spans the entire transmission scope. It is significantly more costly than aboveground transmission: between 10 and 15 times the cost of aboveground tower transmissions.
Either way, expanding the existing energy grid means there is a huge potential for subsurface utility line strikes with every transmission line added to the system.
Intelligently Visualizing the Built World™ is what GPRS does for customers throughout the U.S., providing accurate measurements, depths, and as builts above and below ground to ensure safe excavation. GPRS Project Managers complete some 2,500 renewable energy jobs annually and the company has a verified 98.8% accuracy rate in utility locating and concrete scanning, along with a long history of working with renewable and energy providers.
GPRS has assisted in the completion of over 1,800 EV charging stations, and now averages 350-400 new solar projects annually. The company entered the green energy contractor world in 2009 as part of the construction of the Elk City Wind Farm in Oklahoma. Elk City 1 now powers some 59,000 homes in the area."
Is The Clean Energy Boom Fueling The Construction Employment Boom?
The short answer is, YES!
The U.S. Department of Energy’s latest statistics show that “clean energy” jobs in construction have seen the second largest growth in the industry, with many of the gains coming specifically in the electrical power generation, transmission, and distribution sectors.
“In other energy construction job niches, electric power generation work generated more than 6,600 new jobs last year, with other growth in transmission, distribution, and storage, and fuels.” – ENR, July 6, 2023
Overall, energy construction sector employment grew by 45,000 jobs in 2022, which makes it the second-fastest growing sector in overall energy employment. The outlook for renewable construction project work is even more robust; green energy jobs like solar now account for 40% of all clean energy employment. These figures are likely to continue to grow as the U.S. spends all those renewable energy grant dollars, potentially fueling another facet of the renewable construction boom.
If your organization needs to build transmission, wind, solar, or EV infrastructure, you need accurate, accessible subsurface data. Look no further than GPRS to Intelligently Visualize the Built World™ for your project.
What can we help you visualize?
*Tower foundational information from The Electrical Engineering Portal