Recently, the White House released its Quadrennial Energy Review report, frankly discussing the nation’s need to update its dated energy transmission and distribution infrastructure. To preserve grid stability for future generations, the federal government believes public and private sector leaders must make some drastic decisions and implement them immediately.

Easier said than done. Much has changed in the last few decades. Certain forms of energy like natural gas have begun comprising a much greater slice of the market share while other resources like coal have begun fading out of style. Innovations in renewable energy call for a grid with more than just a one-way flow. Moreover, just as the nature of how we consume energy has evolved, so have the threats to these integral systems. Altering the grid these days is like hitting a moving target.

“Altering the grid these days is like hitting a moving target.”

Enhancing standard delivery

Nearly half of all gas transmission infrastructure in the U.S. was built sometime in the 1950s or 1960s according to the Department of Energy. With each passing year that this issue goes unaddressed, the infrastructure’s resilience wanes further and further. But as the federal government points out in the QER, much of TS&D systems are owned by private organizations who might not feel the need to invest in expensive upgrades. According to the Edison Electric Institute, if major action isn’t taken to update electric utility infrastructure, then the total cost for what will be required to complement increased demand and technological advancements will rise to at least $1.5 trillion.

However, these exorbitant costs could be preempted if the two organizations controlling all the infrastructure can agree on a itinerary and payment plan. A unique and historical partnership between the government and private interests would keep the most important sector from losing its reliance. After all, energy is a part of all other industries and without it, progress anywhere would not be possible.

The struggle for a modern grid pits costly construction against underwhelming delivery.

The struggle for a modern grid pits costly construction against underwhelming delivery.

Starting an integrated grid

With solar and wind energy slowly becoming major players in the energy market, updating the grid can be viewed as a two-birds-one-stone operation. Out with the old, in with the new. However, the nation’s energy profile doesn’t quite support this perspective – not yet, anyway.

Though Americans have made their interests in renewable and sustainable energy options known, a significant portion of the nation’s energy consumption comes from combustive resources like oil, coal and natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 80 percent of all energy consumed in the country still comes from fossil fuels. Additionally, intermittency issues will stifle renewable advancement until these devices can reliably contribute to the nation’s baseload and offset retiring coal and nuclear plants.

It’s not about getting the grid perfect in the first try, but about laying the groundwork for a grid flexible enough to transition with the times. This way, as new technology arises for powering homes and businesses, the resources can be integrated quickly and efficiently without expensive overhauls or downtime.

Keeping an eye out for new dangers

An integrated grid will also make U.S. energy more adaptable against threats to its stability. For example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently mandated that all independent system operators and regional transmission organizations to devise strategies for making their fractions of the grid more resilient to geomagnetic phenomena according to RTO Insider. Damage to energy infrastructure caused by solar flares, though rare, has the potential to derail huge swathes of the grid for incalculable amounts of time. Should such an event occur, grid operators and the federal government would be able to respond intelligently and cut downtime to a fraction of what it would be without these response protocols in place.