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Grid & Storage

The Department of Energy is Building a Better Grid

Matthew Henry

With the push for sustainability occurring in industries worldwide, there is an increasing amount of focus on renewable energy. It is a factor in determining how eco-friendly everything from the supercomputers Google uses to power their cloud networks, down to the environmental impact of your average electric vehicle. While the switch to renewable energy is critical to reducing industry impact, it’s not helpful without adequate electrical grid infrastructure to back it up.

Admittedly, infrastructure, especially electrical infrastructure, can seem like a bit of a back-page issue, but it is incredibly important. In February of last year, the state of Texas experienced a devastating blackout due to poor energy infrastructure. Events like this, and other natural disasters including Hurricane Ida, brought the topic of energy infrastructure to the forefront of American policymakers’ attention. More than 70% of America’s grid transmission lines and power transformers are over 25 years old and need an upgrade. However, investment in grid infrastructure is not only a preventative measure. It is also the key to ensuring that Americans get the most out of the vast number of renewable energy projects that are emerging.

Transmission Lines // Photo Courtesy Fré Sonnevald

In January, the Department of Energy announced that it would help fund America’s grid infrastructure improvements through its “Building a Better Grid” initiative. The project will deploy over $20 billion in federal financing, including the $2.5 billion allocated to grid improvements from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed last November.

The bill comes in response to independent estimates that indicate the US will need to expand its electricity transmission systems by 60% by 2030 and up to triple by 2050, as well as a federal government objective to achieve an energy grid powered entirely by renewable energy by 2035 and a zero-emissions economy by 2050.

With this money, the federal government will provide more than $10 billion in grants to states, native nations, and utility companies to improve grid resilience and prevent power outages. In addition, the Department of Energy will perform transmission-related research and development that will reduce costs of technology and improve efficiency, inform planners as to which transmission areas are under the most stress, and boost the number of transmission jobs that currently employ over a million workers. The federal government will also work with other government agencies to improve the permit process to make improvements in a much more streamlined manner.

Photo Courtesy RawFilm

Quickly improving the grid system is of utmost importance because utility companies are quickly pushing for more renewable energy. The Southwest Power Pool, a 17-state electric network, has grown its renewables portfolio from 6% a decade ago to over 35% currently. Solar projects from Colorado energy companies like Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation, and Transmission Association are ensuring that Colorado will achieve 80% renewable energy reliance by 2030. Large solar and wind projects in Indiana, Oklahoma, and the Southwest United States are continuing to demand more and more from the US energy grid.

The US energy infrastructure is a vital piece of American infrastructure that has long been overlooked. Not only is it what keeps the lights on for almost every home in the United States, but it also represents the cornerstone of America’s switch to renewable energy. America can usher in a better, more sustainable future with better grid infrastructure.

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