The United States has an aging and outdated electricity grid that over 330 million people rely upon for safe and affordable electricity. Over the past decade, total number of power outages have been steadily increasing which leads to issues around safety and cost. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has rated the energy infrastructure a C- in their latest report (ASCE 2021). The largest cause of power outages are due to weather, however, physical and cyber-attacks have increasingly become large contributors to outages as well (The Economist 2021). Smart grid technologies alone will not be able to satisfy safety, reliability, and security of the energy grid so multiple actions will be needed.
Figure 1. United States Power Outages
Source: ASCE 2021.
Figure 2. Annual Seasons and Causes of Reported Electric Disturbances
Source: The Economist 2021.
Grid modernization, or smart grid, technologies like energy management systems, advanced meter infrastructure, and line sensors and smart relays will be critical updates to the energy grid moving forward (The GridWise Alliance 2013). These technologies replace the outdated and often manual equipment and enable the grid to be able to manage intermittent renewable energy resources and become more resilient to extreme weather events making the energy cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable. Climate change creates the increased likelihood of issues to the electricity grid as well, so these modern technologies can help mitigate those future issues by helping to enable a more diverse renewable generation mix, and implementing more decentralized solutions that reduce large outage events (GAO 2021).
Figure 3. Examples of Climate Change on the Electricity Grid
Source: GAO 2021.
Grid modernization needs additional support to ensure solutions are cost effective and secure as well. Smart grid technologies can create vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks and so government policies need to focus on developing a unified cybersecurity communication framework that also ties into the physical infrastructure hardening efforts that protect against weather. Hardening and cybersecurity issues can be very expensive if individuals work alone and not collectively under an overarching framework so policies should aim to reduce barriers to communication, integration, and development of solutions across multi-jurisdictional issues (The GridWise Alliance 2013).
With risks to the energy grid increasing due to aging and outdated infrastructure, increased extreme weather, and directed attacks, policy makers should be focused on providing funding to utilities for smart grid technologies and developing frameworks for a unified approach that utilities can use to ensure investments are focused and leveraged across multiple territories. The hardest problems are often those that span different jurisdictional boundaries, so clear guidance from the Federal Government will be necessary to spur innovation and investment on improving the electric grid for safer, more reliable and resilient, and cost-effective solutions.
Author: Logan Callen
ASCE. 2021. “Infrastructure Report Card: Energy.” American Society of Civil Engineers. Accessed May 5, 2021. https://infrastructurereportcard.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Energy-2021.pdf.
GAO. 2021. “Electricity Grid Resilience, Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-Reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions; Testimony Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate.” Government Accountability Office. Accessed May 05, 2021. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-21-423t.pdf.
The Economist. 2021. “Daily Chart Power Outages Like the One in Texas are Becoming More Common in America.” The Economist. Accessed May 5, 2021. https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/03/01/power-outages-like-the-one-in-texas-are-becoming-more-common-in-america.
The GridWise Alliance. 2013. “Improving Electric Grid Reliability and Resilience: Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy and Other Extreme Events.” Energy.gov. Accessed May 5, 2021. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/03/f20/GridWise%20Improving%20Electric%20Grid%20Reliability%20and%20Resilience%20Report%20June%202013.pdf.