Infrastructure and New Technology Adoption: Assessing the Impact of Transmission Availability on New Solar and Wind Entries Using Power Plant Retirements as a Proxy, Emiri Morita, UG '22, (3953817)
In response to the climate crisis, many governments around the world have committed to decarbonizing its economy by 2050, requiring technological transitions backed by large infrastructure upgrades and installments as an enabling medium. This study analyzes how the deployment of new technologies interact with existing infrastructure, focusing specifically on the expansion of solar and onshore wind power plant developments within the constraints of the existing United States transmission grid. More specifically, I use power plant retirements as a proxy for variation in grid capacity and analyze how new solar and onshore wind deployment at the county level respond to such fluctuations. Results suggest that 0.6 to 1.2 MW of additional solar generation capacity built annually at the county level can be attributed to freed up transmission capacity. In context, most utility-scale solar photovoltaic plants in the U.S. as of 2018 was between 1 to 5 MW, so an unsubstantial volume of new solar capacity is enabled by transmission availability. Meanwhile the same relationship is unclear for onshore wind. These outcomes suggest that infrastructure availability has positive enabling impacts on new technology deployments, but the strength of the relationship varies with the technology in question. Within the realm of renewable energy technology deployment, the variability could be due to the nature of each technology, as infrastructure availability had a clearer impact on less location-specific solar photovoltaic plants compared to more resource constrained onshore wind plants.