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  • [ August 14, 2013 ]
  • Increased grid spending recommended by White House

The White House recently released a report, “Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages,” that addressed the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid to blackouts caused by severe weather, accounting for approximately 58 percent of outages since 2002 and affecting over 50,000 customers.

Causes of power outages from 1992-2012; Chart courtesy of the Energy Information Administration

The report calls for increased spending towards a modernized grid that could save the U.S. economy billions of dollars and improve the livelihood of many Americans. According to the report, power outages from severe storms now cost the economy anywhere from $18 billion to $33 billion a year. Costs are rising while storms are only expected to get stronger.

The existing power grid is over 25 years old and more susceptible to failures. The proposed spending would make the grid more resilient to severe weather by “hardening” the system through training and preparation, stronger equipment, more transmission wires and energy storage systems. Adding advanced sensing and diagnostic equipment for predicting failures would prevent blackouts from getting worse and restore power faster.

Construction on the grid from 1960-2015 (past-predicted); Chart courtesy of the Washington Post

The report doesn’t specify how much to spend on grid upgrades, but according to Massoud Amin, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, the benefit of these upgrades would be significant. He predicts the grid will cost approximately $21 billion per year for 20 years and save approximately $79 billion to $94 billion per year.

The process of upgrading will be expensive, take time, and be difficult to initiate, but the report argues that these grid upgrades, especially in the parts of the U.S. that are regularly damaged by storms, will prevent higher costs in the long run.

Sources:
White House calls for increased grid spending, Bloomberg Businessweek
Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Reilience to Weather Outages, Department of Energy
Why blackouts are becoming more common, in two charts, Washington Post

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