Sold…to the Highest Gridder

DOE releases modernization proposal

Our country’s energy grid appears primed to undergo a hefty makeover.

The Department of Energy released an extensive multi-year blueprint for its Grid Modernization Plan this past week, expected to foster greater reliability and security. According to an Energy.gov press release, the proposed $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative is designed as a comprehensive DOE effort to sculpt the national grid system to meet modern demands and “solve the challenges of integrating conventional and renewable sources with energy storage and smart buildings, while ensuring that the grid is resilient and secure to withstand growing cyber security and climate challenges.”

Two apparent points of emphasis in the plan are security against potential cyber attacks on the grid and enabling its integration of renewable energy sources, as evidenced by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Modernizing the U.S. electrical grid is essential to reducing carbon emissions, creating safeguards against attacks on our infrastructure, and keeping the lights on,” said Secretary Moniz in the original press release.

In its entirety, the blueprint calls for a cooperative effort from 14 of the DOE’s National Laboratories, industry participants, academic contributors, and state and local government agencies. One such agency is The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (based in Arlington, Va.) which will receive a $1.8 million grant, along with its partners for research. This particular division of the funds is focused on reducing the economic impact of extreme weather events that can knock out power. The DOE also outlined a goal set for 2025 of reducing the economic costs of power outages by 10 percent. NRECA’s partners in research will include the University of Michigan, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The group will work on developing new software capable of predicting and responding to weather-related threats to the U.S. electrical grid.

On Wednesday, the DOE added to the Grid Modernization Initiative with the announcement of an additional $18 million in funding for solar power and energy storage projects. There will be six of these in all, distributed as follows: Austin Energy ($4.3 million), Carnegie Mellon University ($1 million), Commonwealth Edison ($4 million), Electric Power Research Institute ($3.1 million), Fraunhofer USA Center for Sustainable Energy Systems ($3.5 million), and Hawaiian Electric Co. ($2.4 million).

In regards to both cyber security concerns and protection against natural threats, the word resiliency echoes throughout this week’s commentary on the subject. “The goal is optimal resiliency,” said Jim Spiers, NRECA’s vice president of Business and Technology Strategies as part of a NRECA press release Monday; while the DOE press release opens with an outline of its “commitment to improving the resiliency, reliability, and security of the nation’s electricity delivery system.”

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