A new report released by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides comprehensive recommendations for improving the US electric power system. The report, The Future of Electric Power in the United States, highlights some five key areas to establish a resilient and secure US energy grid of the future.
Adopting the recommendations would help the US to accelerate innovations in technology, policy, and business models and be able to adequately provide electricity to the nation in a safe, reliable, clean, resilient, and equitable way as the US pursues de-carbonisation of the energy supply.
The report includes a wide-ranging set of recommendations for the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Congress, state entities, and industry, divided into five major areas of need:
1. Improve Stakeholders’ Understanding of how the Electricity System is Evolving.
Forecasting tools need to be capable of adaptation to account for the different ways that the grid will evolve in different regions. The report calls for research on changes in demand for electricity, grid modernisation to support de-carbonisation, as well as building analytic tools and running simulations of evolving grid systems.
2. Ensure that Electricity Service Remains Clean and Sustainable, as Well as Reliable and Resilient.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing sustainability, in part through renewable resources, will remain a focus in the coming decades. Greater resilience and reliability is also a priority. FERC should designate a central entity to establish standards for the reliability of the nation’s natural gas delivery system. DOE’s research programme in grid cybersecurity is an important source of innovation to improve the resiliency of future grid infrastructure and operations. DOE, in collaboration with industry and academia, should create a research and development priority road map to develop and demonstrate new technologies for a resilient grid that will survive a cyber incident while sustaining critical functionality.
3. Improve Understanding of how People Use Electricity and Sustain the “Social Compact” to Keep Electricity Affordable and Equitable in the Face of Technological Changes
Potential changes in the grid may have a disproportionate effect on users with lower incomes, exposing the need to devise regulatory responses in light of changing circumstances. The report calls for increased utility regulator attention to and assessment of how changes in the electrical system affect energy access, equity, and affordability. The federal government should increase investment in understanding the impacts of energy transitions on workers and for workforce education and training in the changing electrical system
4. Facilitate Innovations in Technology, Policy, and Business Models Relevant to the Power System.
New technologies such as clean generation and energy storage can enable large changes in the way the power system is organized and operated. Understanding how electricity consumers behave and how such trends affect system loads is emerging as an important challenge. The report recommends federal and state support for social science research and analysis related to technology, policy, and business models. It also calls for enhanced experimentation and information sharing on innovations in those areas.
5. Accelerate Innovations in Technology in Lght of Shifting Global Supply Chains and the Influx of Disruptive Technologies.
In order to support and encourage international collaboration in energy research and technology development, the report recommends the White House establish an interagency process to review all arrangements that limit international research collaborations and make reforms to allow for greater interaction between US researchers and those in other countries. The federal government should also enact policies to move technology manufacturing and supply chains back to the United States while recognising that innovation and manufacturing are global. Additionally, massive new private and public investments are needed in innovation, especially for more cutting-edge technologies on which the future of the grid will depend. The report recommends a tripling of support for applied electric power development, increased support of advanced technologies that can support multiple pathways for the electrical system’s evolution, setting standards for critical equipment that is imported from other countries, and greater encouragement of international collaboration on energy research.
According to the report, the US electricity system currently consists of utilities and other entities operating in a variety of regulated and competitive market environments.
Some systems are investor-owned yet regulated by public policy, while some are publicly owned and regulated more directly through private ownership and state and federal laws. This heterogeneity makes it difficult to generalise about many aspects of the system across the country, engage in cohesive long-term planning, or develop a common set of actions that is relevant to all parties.
The Congress and states should support the evolution of planning for and siting of regional transmission facilities with urgency.
This support should take the form of a national transmission policy, to ensure energy diversity and security, as well as an equitable transition to a lower-carbon energy economy, according to the study.
The report also recommends that Congress substantially increase the level of funding for the research, development, and demonstration of production, delivery, and use of electric power.
M. Granger Morgan, Hamerschlag University professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and chair of the committee that wrote the report, said: “No one can predict precisely what the electricity system will look like several decades from now, but there are a number of technical advances and regulatory changes that would facilitate a variety of developments for the electric power system.
“It is our committee’s hope that, over the decades to come, this report will help to make America’s critically important electric power system safer and more secure, cleaner and more sustainable, more affordable and equitable, and more reliable and resilient.”