Winds of change are a’ blowing. Everywhere you look Americans are rallying for renewable energy and green jobs. In a historic moment on January 23rd 2009, the EPA made a bold statement in favor of developing a clean energy economy by overturning the decision to permit a coal burning power plant, Big Stone II. Similarly, President Obama’s stimulus program proposes to double the amount of renewable energy on the power grid in the next three years. Every sign points to the fact that the US renewable energy market is on the verge of unprecedented growth. However, before this can happen, the American power grid desperately needs a makeover.

The current power grid is unprepared to deal with large quantities of renewable energy like wind and solar for two reasons. First of all, the areas that are most appropriate for wind and solar are often in sparsely populated areas. As a consequence of this, wind and solar energy often need to be transmitted across long distances. However, the current power grid does not have enough high voltage transfer lines to allow this to happen. As a result, wind developers today are often faced with one of two situations. Wind farms can be developed in less windy areas in order to take advantage of existing high voltage transfer lines to the detriment of wind power productivity. Or, wind farms can be developed at America’s windiest sites at the risk of losing large amounts of energy as electrons are lost in transfer across long stretches of lower voltage lines. Secondly, as wind and solar energy only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, it will be difficult to integrate large amounts into the grid until to the grid can better handle fluctuations in power. Without building an electrical grid that can accommodate fluctuations, the number of blackouts that the nation experiences would increase, while the reliability of the electrical system would decrease.

Luckily, however, investing in the power grid is a solution that works for everyone. It increases the efficiency and reliability of the grid while saving consumers money on their energy bills. According to a study conducted by the Joint Coordinated System Plan, if the power grid is updated to handle 20% of the East Coast’s electricity needs from wind, consumers could save as much as 12 billion dollars annually. An investment on this scale would be able to pay itself back in as few as 7 years, and would greatly reduce the amount of energy lost in transmission. If the power grid is extended to cover 20% of the entire country’s wind electricity, the cost for installing the system would be 80 billion. While this would be a substantial upfront investment, it would pay itself off relatively quickly, given the speed at which monetary savings could be recovered through greater efficiency.