With more than 40 percent of the global capacity of carbon management projects (13 in operation and more than 60 in different stages of development), the United States is expected to play a major role in the deployment of carbon …
Electric utilities and power producers across the United States are developing new strategies to modernize the electric grid to address mounting risks from wildfires, ice storms, and other climate-related extreme weather.
Portland General Electric (PGE), a public utility based in Oregon, is responding to three straight years of devastating extreme weather. The company had to enforce its first-ever public safety power shutoff in 2020 after an uncommon cold front sparked the worst wildfires the state has seen. An ice storm in 2021 wiped out electric power for two-thirds of the utility’s customers, followed by a 116-degree heat dome in June 2022, triggering a 25 percent jump in peak demand.
More than 1,700 miles away in Texas, Bandera Electric Cooperative, a rural electric co-op near San Antonio, faced similar challenges; a deadly February 2021 winter storm that resulted in widespread power outages and brought the grid close to failure, and 11 record peak-demand days so far this year. Of course, these experiences are not unique to Oregon or Texas, as the costs of extreme weather keep climbing for utilities across the country.
In an Oct. 11 C2ES webinar, panelists from PGE, Bandera, and other utilities discussed how grid modernization can ensure that the electricity system can withstand increasingly intense conditions. Panelists also explored technology’s potential role in addressing climate challenges and barriers slowing near-term deployment.
They discussed technology-driven solutions that modernize the grid so that it can adapt to increasingly erratic climate conditions. These solutions include a broad array of advancements, including distributed energy (such as microgrids, virtual power plants, or solar arrays), demand response technologies (such as smart meters and smart appliances), forecasting and predictive analytics, and software that aids grid hardening.
These emerging tools allow utilities like PGE and Bandera to plan, predict, and respond to weather-driven demands for power or risks to the grid. They can also help ensure that critical resources maintain power during extreme weather. As the economy electrifies and decarbonizes, grid modernization technologies can also help utilities manage increasing loads and bring new decentralized generation and storage online.
The grid modernization discussion comes at a critical time. In 2021, we recommended that Congress substantially increase funding for grid resilience, and the bipartisan infrastructure law passed that year did just that. Through the Department of Energy’s new Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships program, the department is unleashing billions of dollars in loans and grants to modernize the grid, and new federal tax incentives are expected to reshape the country’s power sector in the coming decades. The resulting grid transformation will be dictated by investment decisions today, and decision-makers must quickly determine what role these technologies should play in the grid of the future.
Here are key points for stakeholders in the grid transformation:
As we move from whether we modernize the grid to how we do it, a slate of interesting questions emerges:
C2ES is exploring these and other questions in our support of the transition to a just and resilient low-carbon economy. Among industry leaders, the conversation continues with forward-thinking events like GridCONNEXT and initiatives like the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)-led Climate Resilience and Adaptation Initiative (READi) effort