Upgrading the US power grid for the 21st century

Upgrading the US power grid for the 21st century

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Upgrading the US power grid for the 21st century

The US Department of Energy has announced $220m in funding for projects from a host of national laboratories to help upgrade the country’s power grid over the next three years. What work needs to be done to make the grid ’cleaner, more productive and more secure’, and what are the implications for the integration of more grid-connected renewable energy projects in the future?

This is a growing problem that is costing the US a great deal of money – at least $150bn a year according to the DOE – and will also require eye-watering sums to address, with a 2011 technical report by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) pegging the cost to move the US to a smarter national grid with better protection against blackout events at somewhere between $338bn and $476bn.

However, the EPRI’s research also strongly indicates that this investment would provide an extremely positive societal return, with the total benefits of a smart grid system estimated at $1.2tn to $2tn.

“The smart grid will assure that consumers are provided with reliable, high-quality digital-grade power, increased electricity-related services and an improved environment,” reads the EPRI’s report. “The smart grid will allow the benefits resulting from the rapid growth of renewable power generation and storage as well as the increased use of electric vehicles to become available to consumers.

“Without the development of the smart grid, the full value of a lot of individual technologies like electric vehicles, electric energy storage, demand response, distributed resources, and large central station renewables such as wind and solar will not be fully realized.”

The US Government, acknowledging the scale of the problem and the massive upside potential of working to solve it, has begun to invest in large-scale grid modernisation schemes.

President Barack Obama’s 2009 post-crash stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, prompted more than $4.5bn in DOE investments for grid modernisation, including $3.3bn for smart grid technology and $685m in regional smart grid and energy storage demonstration projects.

The DOE has cited significant improvements to US grid reliability and resiliency as a result of this investment, and has trumpeted successful projects derived from the Smart Grid Investment Grant, which increased grid reliability by 45% in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and reduced metering operations costs by 65% for Georgia’s Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation.

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