The West moves ever closer to a unified power grid

A unified grid would allow for easier sharing of wind and solar power.


Wind turbines in Wyoming. A newly expanded energy imbalance market could lead to more renewable energy development.
U.S. Air Force photo/ Lance Cheung

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In 2014, California’s power grid operator, CAISO, created an energy imbalance market that allows it to share small amounts of power with other utilities to correct imbalances between supply and demand. This was considered to be a first step toward unifying the Western grid, which is currently broken up into 38 distinct units. Proponents of a unified grid say it will allow for long-distance sharing of large amounts of wind and solar power on short notice, thereby reducing the need to burn fossil fuels to meet spikes in demand (“One grid to rule them all,” HCN, 7/18/17).

Two more utilities agreed in September to join the Western market, bringing the total number of participants to 20 — about three-fourths of all the electricity used on the Western grid. The widespread participation is likely to break down political barriers to the market’s expansion, which in turn could finally unite the balkanized power grid.

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