To expand and upgrade the upper midwest’s electric grid, added transmission and other infrastructure improvements are needed to accommodate more renewable energy, says a new report by CapX2020, a consortium of 10 regional utilities.

While not intended to provide a vision for what the transmission grid might look like in 2050, the CapX2050 report says that solutions could include flexible alternating current transmission systems, static synchronous compensators, and grid-forming inverts, as opposed to grid-following ones.

The report acknowledges a potential need for not-yet-existing innovations. “New technologies may be required to reliably respond and isolate abnormal conditions in the transmission system,” it notes. “Changing the generation fleet from dispatchable resources to non-dispatchable resources will require innovative solutions to maintain system stability and reliability.”

Energy storage and dispatchable resources are needed to support renewable generation, according to the analysis, which also recommends expanding transmission infrastructure to manage ebbs and flows in demand.

In addition, it suggests changes to the planning process for such projects, including merging individual studies on key aspects such as interconnection, operations, economics and reliability "into a more comprehensive study to increase certainty that future transmission plans are able to provide multiple benefits."

Between 2004 and 2017, CapX2020 completed a $2-billion infrastructure upgrade that added 800 miles of transmission lines and 22 substations, which has allowed 3,600 MW of wind and other renewable energy generated to connect to the grid. 

Many of the states within CapX2020’s coverage area—which roughly comprises Minnesota, the eastern parts of South and North Dakota and western Wisconsin—have recently increased commitments to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

In December 2019, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) sought to strengthen the state’s effort—codified in a 2007 act setting a 30% GHG reduction by 2025 goal—with an executive order on climate change, and will seek legislation that sets a 2050 date for utilities to “use carbon-free energy sources.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) called for 100% carbon-free electricity consumption by 2050 in an August 2019 executive order.

Separately, several of the utilities in the collective have set their own GHG reduction goals.