Building the 21st-century grid needed to increase
VOL. 23, No. 4
efficiency, security and renewable energy supply will
require new regulatory tools and policy approaches.
By BRACKEN HENDRICKS
transformation of our outmoded electricity
infrastructure around the platforms of efficiency, security, reliability and reduced carbon
emissions will boost U.S. innovation and job
creation in coming decades.
efficiency of the entire electricity system.
The grid has suffered from systematic
underinvestment in recent decades. Demand
has outpaced investment, and congestion
on the grid has grown. One study found
that transmission congestion
costs consumers in the eastern
United States $16.5 billion per
year in higher electricity prices
alone. A stronger power grid
also will be more reliable, reduc-
ing the staggering cost of power
outages for U.S. consumers and
businesses. The 2003 blackout in
the Northeast and Canada, for
example, caused an estimated
$7 billion to $10 billion in eco-
nomic losses. A more intercon-
nected grid is vitally important to
national security, as well, provid-
ing redundancy in the event of a
failure in any location.
At the core of our response
to these challenges is the realiza-tion that the policy and regulatory
structure for managing electricity transmission and distribution is not designed to meet the
demands of a changing society. To take rapid
and meaningful action will require not only
new investment, but also more thoughtful regulatory tools and policy approaches to leverage
the potential for large-scale investment into a
robust 21st-century grid infrastructure that is
resilient, sustainable, efficient and affordable
Bracken Hendricks is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he works on
green jobs and building a low-carbon economy.
Hendricks is co-author with Congressman Jay
Inslee (Wash.) of the book, Apollo’s Fire: Igniting
America’s Clean Energy Economy ( apollosfire.net).
He was co-founder of the Apollo Alliance and
has served as an advisor to the Obama administration and special assistant to the Office of Vice
President Al Gore. This article is adapted from
his February report, “Wired for Progress: Building
a National Clean-Energy Smart Grid.” Download the full report at americanprogress.org/
If we want consumers to make smart choices about how
they produce and use electricity, then they will need access to
real-time information on the true costs and impacts of their
energy choices. That will require deploying “smart meters” or
If a primary national goal
is to increase the use of
renewable energy to 25
This task will be daunting. As presently
configured, the U.S. electric transmission and
distribution system faces three major hurdles.
First, the high-voltage transmission grid imposes important constraints on the deployment of
renewable energy because it simply does not
go where many of these resources will be developed. Second, congestion and bottlenecks hurt
the reliability of the grid overall, particularly
where it is needed to move large volumes of Building a Renewable
new power from remote generation to major Electricity “Pipeline”
loads. Third, the monitoring and control tech- Central to this effort is a keen understanding
nology on both transmission and distribution of the renewable energy “pipeline” of products
networks is weak. The lack of smart technology and services that a national smart grid will
to provide utilities and consumers with better enable. Let’s look at what this new pipeline will
information in real time hurts the security and look like, from source to point of use.
Copyright © 2009 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
percent of our total electrical
supply, as President Obama
has advocated, then we will
need new infrastructure
designed for the task.
solartoday.org SOLAR TODAY May 2009