A recently published Reuters special report says that the US power infrastructure needs a multi-trillion-dollar overhaul to be able to achieve the country’s ambitious schedule of eliminating carbon emissions.
The US clean energy is already flourishing — wind and solar energy have been soaring in recent years, and electric car sales are also increasing every year. Due to climate changes, however, the report notes that within the past six years, power outages have more than doubled compared to the previous six years due to destructions resulting from bad weather, wildfires, hurricanes, etc.
“Competition from renewables is being strangled without adequate and necessary upgrades to the transmission network,” said Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association, which represents solar and wind companies.
NERC, the country’s grid regulator, attributed the sharp rise in U.S. outages to weather events and fuel shortages. Reuters examined the data from 2015 to 2020 and found that outages averaged 9,656 annually, almost double the average of 4,609 during the previous six-year period. According to NERC, previous year’s data are not available.
In part, the problem is that the groups responsible for overseeing regional power grids fail to anticipate these disasters, according to industry consultants and a Reuters review of regulatory filings and public disclosures. According to all seven regional operators’ risk models, they typically take decades of historical data into account and assign each year’s weather an equal chance of occurring in the future. The models are used to guide grid investments, which typically need approval from state regulators.
Reuters reports that grid operators in California, the Midwest, New England, New York and Texas are stepping up their planning to better prepare for weather disasters, even if such events are unlikely. Neither the Southwest Power Pool nor the PJM Interconnection, which covers a group of eastern and midwestern states, responded to requests for comments.
It appears that no one is taking steps to fix the problem, says a March 2022 report from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity. In its report, Boston-based consulting firm the Brattle Group concluded: “Essentially no major interregional transmission projects have been planned or built in the last decade.”