With an already outdated and aging electricity transmission grid, the United States has had an increasing number of outages due to weather as well as physical and cyber-attacks. These outages impact millions of people across the country and cost an average of $26 billion dollars annually (Executive Office of the President 2013). Updating the grid will create a less vulnerable and more resilient system that will reduce costs and emissions; however, complimentary actions will also be required to ensure the greatest results from these improvements.
Figure 1. Cost Estimates of Economic Damages from Weather Outages
Source: Executive Office of the President 2013.
Smart Grid Implementation
Installing smart grid upgrades to the energy system should be undertaken to ensure a safer, cleaner, cost effective, and more resilient energy delivery system. The current grid is composed of outdated and often manual equipment that creates cascading impacts when weather or attacks are focused on the system. Smart grid technologies like energy management systems, advanced meter infrastructure, and line sensors or smart relays allow the grid to respond quickly to issues and maintain delivery (The GridWise Alliance 2013). Intermittent renewable energy like wind and solar are also able to be integrated and managed more effectively without curtailment events and complex energy efficiency actions can be implemented. These improvements not only reduce physical vulnerabilities, but as seen in figure 2 below, also provide additional reductions in energy use and carbon emissions that generate large cost savings as well (Munday 2011).
Figure 2. Savings Estimates of Transmission Upgrades
Source: Munday 2011.
Additional Grid Improvements
New modern technologies reduce a lot of costs and physical risk; however, they do introduce cyber vulnerabilities that have been increasing over the past few years. In addition to grid hardening measures like burying power lines to reduce physical risks, technological improvements will be required to further secure the digital infrastructure. Cybersecurity can be improved through three primary actions that include strengthening preparedness of the energy sector, coordination of cyber incident response and recovery, and increasing research and development of additional resilient energy delivery system technologies (Energy.gov n.d.). With smart grid updates, storm hardening, and cybersecurity enhancements the energy grid can reduce outage risks and increase efficiency while reducing costs.
Figure 3. Increasing Cybersecurity Risk
Source: Ferris and Van Renssen 2021.
Prioritization of Upgrades
Grid modernizations require capital investment, and often the energy grid needs are competing with other national priorities like entitlements, national security, job creation, and environmental stewardship for example. However, it should not be seen as a competing investment and should be seen as a way to help these other priorities like reducing equity issues by lowering the costs of delivered energy and reducing usage. Developing a more secure and robust energy grid also increases national security while creating jobs. As discussed previously, smart grid upgrades also reduce energy emissions. Smart grid investments should be seen as a useful method to achieving other national priorities and should be prioritized highly as an effective solution that helps reduce these other issues.
Transmission is Critical
The transmission grid is critical to the economy and life within the United States. Smart grid updates, with additional storm hardening and cybersecurity, should be viewed as a high priority investment opportunity to help solve many other security and economic issues. These updates not only create a more resilient, safer, and affordable service, but they also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide greater opportunities for future improvements.
Author: Logan Callen
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Energy.gov. n.d. “Cybersecurity.” Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.energy.gov/ceser/cybersecurity.
Executive Office of the President. 2013. “Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages.” Energy.gov. August. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/08/f2/Grid%20Resiliency%20Report_FINAL.pdf.
Ferris, Nick, and Sonja Van Renssen. 2021. “Cybersecurity Threats Escalate in the Energy Sector.” Energy Monitor. Feb 17. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://energymonitor.ai/technology/digitalisation/cybersecurity-threats-escalate-in-the-energy-sector.
Munday, Oliver. 2011. “The Power of the Smart Grid.” GOOD. Feb 2. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.good.is/infographics/the-power-of-the-smart-grid.
SmartGrid.gov. n.d. “The Smart Grid.” U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.smartgrid.gov/the_smart_grid/smart_grid.html.
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.