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Gridlock: Visualizing the U.S. Clean Energy Backlog

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The following content is sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council

u.s. clean energy backlog infographic

Gridlock: Visualizing the U.S. Clean Energy Backlog

The U.S. has almost 2 million megawatts (MW) of solar, wind, and storage capacity on hold in interconnection queues, seeking connection to the electrical grid.

However, the lack of transmission infrastructure, in addition to a lengthy permitting process, has resulted in a bottleneck of clean energy projects awaiting approval before they can be plugged into the grid.

This infographic sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council maps U.S. clean energy capacity in interconnection queues by transmission region, based on data from the Berkeley Lab.

But before we dive into the data, let’s fully understand what interconnection queues mean.

What are Interconnection Queues?

Before new power plants can be built and connected to the grid, they go through a series of impact assessments to ensure safety and reliability. The projects in this process form grid interconnection queues, which are essentially waitlists of proposed power plants seeking grid connection.

Here are some of the problems associated with U.S. interconnection queues:

  • Wait times: The average time projects spend in the queue is up from 2.1 years in 2000 to 3.7 years in 2021, according to the Energy Transitions Commission. 
  • Withdrawal rates: Historically, most projects have withdrawn from the queue, with just 21% of projects seeking connection from 2000–2017 reaching commercial operation.
  • Aging transmission: The U.S. grid is aging, and queued-up projects can end up facing large fees from the updates required to transmission infrastructure.

Although the backlog is alarming, the interconnection queues also show that project developers are invested in the clean energy transition. In fact, the amount of clean energy capacity in interconnection queues exceeds the amount needed to get to 90% zero-carbon electricity by 2035, according to Berkeley Lab.

U.S. Clean Energy in Queues

Solar and battery storage projects account for the majority of capacity in interconnection queues, followed by wind.

Energy SourceCapacity in Interconnection Queues (MW)% of Total
Solar947,45249%
Battery Storage682,78235%
Wind186,14410%
Offshore Wind114,0066%
Total1,930,384100%

Data as of the end of 2022.

Notably, 48% of all solar capacity in the queues is proposed as a “hybrid plant” that combines generation with battery storage. Similarly, over half of all battery storage capacity is proposed with some amount of generation.

The large number of hybrid and storage configurations show that project developers are addressing the intermittent nature of renewables by combining generation with storage.

Interconnection queues are managed by Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) that operate the grid and wholesale electricity markets in different regions. Here’s a look at the clean energy capacity in queues grouped by major transmission regions and ISOs:

ISO/Transmission RegionClean Energy Capacity in
Interconnection Queues (MW)
% of Total
West (non-ISO)578,93730%
Midcontinent ISO (MISO)321,72317%
PJM (RTO)284,38415%
Electric Reliability Council Of Texas (ERCOT)207,80811%
California ISO (CAISO)196,79210%
New York ISO (NYISO)108,1636%
Southern Power Pool (SPP)105,3985%
Southeast (Non-ISO)92,9565%
New England ISO (ISO-NE)34,2232%
Total1,930,384100%

Data as of the end of 2022. Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding. 

Overall, the West (non-ISO) region has the most solar (254 GW), battery (262 GW), and onshore wind (63 GW) capacity in interconnection queues. Offshore wind capacity is highest in New York (63 GW), managed by the NYISO.

In 2022, California ISO did not accept any new interconnection requests due to the backlog from 2021. Meanwhile, the PJM announced that it would not review any new requests until 2025. Despite these slowdowns, over 700 GW of capacity was added to U.S. interconnection queues in 2022.

Unlocking the Gridlock

Given the current backlog, along with the incentives for new clean energy projects in the Inflation Reduction Act, clearing the gridlock is now more important than ever.

The large backlog, long wait times, and high withdrawal rates highlight the growing challenges in interconnection and transmission. Among other longer-term solutions, there are two ways to alleviate the gridlock:

  • Expanding high-voltage transmission lines: Many solar and wind projects are located in remote areas and require high-voltage transmission lines to carry electricity to cities. Expanding the transmission network can allow more projects to connect to the grid.
  • Streamlined permitting: Interconnection processes and the reviews involved are long and costly for project developers. Reforming processes and streamlining permits can help in shortening the wait times for projects in queues.

To address this problem, some grid operators have already made changes to their interconnection processes. Additionally, the Department of Energy has launched the Interconnection Innovation Exchange (i2X) in an effort to improve collaboration and transparency in interconnection.

History shows that most of the projects in interconnection queues will ultimately not be built. However, what’s clear is that the U.S. is on the road to decarbonization, and energy project developers are focusing on clean energy sources for the future.

Learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization here.

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Clean Energy

3 Learnings for Scaling Up Wind and Solar Power

Streamlining processes, investing in infrastructure, and promoting local manufacturing can pave the way for wind and solar adoption.

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An infographic showing how streamlining processes, investing in infrastructure, and promoting local manufacturing can pave the way for wind and solar adoption

3 Learnings for Wind and Solar Power Scale-Up

To keep the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the world must triple its renewable power capacity by 2030.

However, swift and widespread adoption depends on the removal of various bottlenecks in project pipelines worldwide.

We’ve partnered with the National Public Utilities Council to visualize data from the IEA and the Energy Transitions Commission to highlight three areas of improvement, critical to the rapid adoption of renewables.

1. Planning and Permitting

Currently, regulatory and administrative barriers lead to lengthy project timelines worldwide.

A wind project, for example, can take 10–12 years of development, while solar projects can take four years.

The Energy Transitions Commission suggests a faster process, including quicker site mapping, permit applications, and environmental surveys.

Policymakers can help reduce project timelines by allocating land for renewables, setting permit targets, and digitalizing the permit application process. As a result, the development time for wind projects could be reduced to 4.5–5.5 years, and solar projects could be online in one year.

2. Grid Availability for Solar and Wind 

Connecting renewable energy projects to the grid has posed a challenge.

As of 2023, almost 1,500 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar projects in advanced stages of development were still off the electricity grid. 

Excluding China and India, transmission and distribution investments have increased by only 1% annually since 2010. According to the IEA, however, government and stakeholder investment in grids must double to over $600 billion annually to meet climate targets.

3. Supply Chain Diversification

The final area for improvement, when it comes to expediting global wind and solar power scale-up, is supply chain diversification.

Currently, China heavily concentrates the global manufacturing capacity on clean energy, leading to a heavy dependency on imports for the rest of the world.

Share of Manufacturing Capacity, 2021Wind (Onshore)Wind (Offshore)Solar PV
China59%70%85%
Europe16%26%2%
North America10%0%1%
Asia Pacific9%4%11%
Central & South America5%0%0%
Africa0%0%0%
Eurasia0%0%0%
Middle East0%0%0%

Global manufacturing capacity share is calculated by averaging the global manufacturing shares of individual components (i.e., wind: tower, nacelle, blade; solar: wafers, cells, modules). Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

According to research by ONYX Insight, almost 60% of wind farm operators reported that supply chain issues were their biggest challenge over the next 2–3 years.

International collaboration and investment, however, can help diversify manufacturing outside of China. In addition, policymakers can also implement policies and incentives that encourage the growth of local manufacturing capacity for renewables. 

All in all, streamlining processes, investing in infrastructure, and promoting local manufacturing can pave the way for a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

Download the 2023 Decarbonization Report.

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Clean Energy

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Despite concerns about nuclear waste, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of all radioactive waste ever generated.

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Graphic cubes illustrating the global volume of nuclear waste and its disposal methods.

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Nuclear power is among the safest and cleanest sources of electricity, making it a critical part of the clean energy transition.

However, nuclear waste, an inevitable byproduct, is often misunderstood.

In collaboration with the National Public Utilities Council, this graphic shows the volume of all existing nuclear waste, categorized by its level of hazardousness and disposal requirements, based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Storage and Disposal

Nuclear provides about 10% of global electricity generation.

Nuclear waste, produced as a result of this, can be divided into four different types:

  • Very low-level waste: Waste suitable for near-surface landfills, requiring lower containment and isolation.
  • Low-level waste: Waste needing robust containment for up to a few hundred years, suitable for disposal in engineered near-surface facilities.
  • Intermediate-level waste: Waste that requires a greater degree of containment and isolation than that provided by near-surface disposal.
  • High-level waste: Waste is disposed of in deep, stable geological formations, typically several hundred meters below the surface.

Despite safety concerns, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of total radioactive waste reported to the IAEA.

Waste ClassDisposed (cubic meters)Stored (cubic meters)Total (cubic meters)
Very low-level waste758,802313,8821,072,684
Low-level waste1,825,558204,8582,030,416
Intermediate level waste671,097201,893872,990
High-level waste3,9605,3239,283

Stored and disposed radioactive waste reported to the IAEA under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. Data is from the last reporting year which varies by reporting country, 2019-2023.

The amount of waste produced by the nuclear power industry is small compared to other industrial activities.

While flammable liquids comprise 82% of the hazardous materials shipped annually in the U.S., radioactive waste accounts for only 0.01%.

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working towards the future of sustainable electricity.

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