National transmission network could slash CO2 at modest costs, Clack says

The United States power sector could slash carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through deployment of a national transmission system that would use existing technology options, the PennWell TransForum East conference was told Nov. 16.

“Weather-informed systems: A strategy to de-carbonize the U.S.” was presented at the conference in Washington, D.C. by Christopher Clack, PhD. TransForum East is organized by TransmissionHub.

Clack has founded Vibrant Clean Energy, LLC “with the purpose of pursuing intelligent transformation of the electric and energy system to meet the needs of the 21st century,” according to the firm’s website.

Clack is an expert in mathematics, statistics and optimization. Combining this expertise with the gained skills of numerical weather prediction, electrical engineering and economics, Clack says there is already a seismic shift underway within the electric grid of the United States.

Clack’s ambitious hope for lower CO2 through a more national transmission grid has received national press attention. The Atlantic described the Clack approach as “The Energy Interstate.”

The big reduction in CO2 is achieved by moving away from “a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system,” according to Clack. The best technology for a long-distance transmission network is high-voltage direct current (HVDC), Clack said.

“Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns,” according to the Clack presentation.

Conceivably a well-positioned wind project on a national grid could ship its power anywhere from California to New York, Clack said.

“Realistic solutions do exist,” Clack said. The United States can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% compared with 1990 levels, which decreasing the cost of electricity, Clack said.

The electric superhighway approach “simultaneously solves generation, transmission and dispatch to find the least-cost mix,” Clack said.

While there are political and jurisdictional hurdles, the infrastructure and engineering problems are solvable, Clack said.

Clack uses a computer models to plot existing generation sources, hourly power demand, volatility, weather patterns and other data. Clack said he spent three years trying to prove his computer model is wrong and has been unable to do so. “Bigger is better,” for the transmission system, he said.

By tapping into an expanded national electric grid by 2030, the United States would have a system powered by wind, solar, natural gas, nuclear power and hydro projects.

Almost no coal-fired power would remain because it would no longer be financially competitive, Clack said. Coal would have to compete with low-CO2 power from other regions, Clack said.

“Coal is competed out” by cheaper forms of energy even without an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan, Clack said.

New transmission infrastructure could be built either along existing corridors or added along railroad right-of-way, for example, Clack said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at