Energy’s Endless Options
How to Plan for Renewables

The desirability of renewable energy has increased for utilities and homeowners alike. But its popularity also has exposed a host of unknowns — for utilities, homeowners and the grid — as well as the need to look at the production and delivery of this energy from a holistic perspective.

Back in the day, limited options made for easy decision-making. A slice of cheese pizza and a scoop of vanilla ice cream would more than suffice in a ’70s pizza shop. But the food industry has since been transformed by endless options that include lobster-topped pizza and barbecue-flavored ice cream.

The energy market, traditionally a one-way grid with slow cycles of change, has followed a similar evolution, with the surge of renewable energy and distributed generation disrupting the norm.


Select a generation option.


Planned renewable additions (more than 40 GW by 2023)

Planned conventional generation retirements (more than 45 GW by 2031)

Visualization developed from publicly available information on planned retirements and renewable additions.

Conventional generation plants are retiring, and renewable generation is popping up, but not always within the same geographical area, one of many challenges in the new energy market.

“Where generation is, you would assume the load is, too, but we’re not putting it (generation) back in the same spot,” says Josh Crawford, a senior electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell. “We’re putting it in other places, so the grid is going to be totally different in the next 10 years.”

But its $4.5 billion price tag, including a lengthy 350 miles of transmission line needed for delivery to end users, might not have fully covered the trade-offs in costs between power production and delivery. In July 2018, the Texas Public Utility Commission rejected the project, citing a lack of benefits for ratepayers.

“We can’t just be focused on busbar cost anymore; we have to look at delivery cost as well as the value of location in this new power supply equation,” says Matt Lind, a project manager and business line lead for resource planning and market assessments at Burns & McDonnell. “Economies of scale captured with large central stations have made the most sense in the past, but in the new utility model, there’s a lot of locational value to be unlocked in bringing more renewables and power supply to a system.”

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Hawaii has big plans to use renewable resources for 100 percent of its power generation by 2045, while California has committed to 100 percent carbon-free generation by the same time. As states up their renewable games, so, too, are Fortune 500 companies. Click here to see which businesses are setting ambitious goals of their own.