In the rush to embrace green tech like solar panels and wind turbines, the world appears to be forgetting something rather crucial, says Brad Plumer in The New York Times: the infrastructure needed to support it all. In an extensive new report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns that around 50 million miles of power lines around the world need to be built or upgraded by 2040 – equivalent to nearly doubling the planet’s existing electric grids. To keep pace with renewable energy commitments, the world will need to spend a whopping $600bn a year by 2030. Yet with the “notable exception of China”, investment in grids is declining in many countries. As IEA director Fatih Birol says: “It’s like being focused on building the fastest, most beautiful car you possibly can, but then you forget to build the roads for it.”
The problems are already stacking up. Around the world, at least 3,000 gigawatts of renewable energy are “waiting for permission to connect to power lines” – equivalent to five times the total solar and wind installed last year. In the US, it can take more than five years to hook a new power plant up to the grid. One factor is residents refusing to allow new lines to be built in their neighbourhoods. Another is that utility companies are having to upgrade infrastructure in cities to handle the “influx of power demand” from electric vehicles. In the Netherlands, demand is so high that 3,000 neighbourhoods will have to wait until 2025 before they can install any more charging stations. If governments want to meet their ambitious renewable energy targets, they need to get on with clearing this “logjam”.