Changes to Electricity Systems Will Enhance U.S. Grid Reliability

Cheryl Roberto PhotoLast Thursday morning, with my heart quickly jumping, I entered the grandeur of the United States Senate hearing room for the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Keeping the lights on — are we doing enough to ensure the reliability and security of the US electric grid? hearing as an invited witness. I was eager to share EDF’s vision of a cost-effective, clean energy system that enhances reliability − but I couldn’t help being a little awed by the moment. I had never testified on Capitol Hill before and the dignity of the setting and importance of the message I wanted to share weighed on me.

Here are the high points of my testimony (though you can read it in full here):

  • The nation’s electricity system stands at a transformative crossroads: The costs of distributed generation technologies like rooftop solar and battery storage are falling and energy productivity is rising. In our digital world, people have increased demands for power quality and reliability, but needs for power quantity are predicted to fall – mostly due to “gains in appliance efficiency and an increase in vehicle efficiency standards by 2025.” As a result, our system is transforming from a one-way, centralized power delivery network in which customers passively receive electricity to a two-way flow of both power and information in which customers both receive and produce electricity. The very model of centralized, utility-scale power generation is no longer sacrosanct. The electricity systems we built in the last century, and the regulations that govern them, are no longer adequate – neither to ensure reliability, or to accommodate the rapid changes in technology, consumer needs, environmental standards, and the changing marketplace.
  • Transformation of the central power grid will cost-effectively enhance reliability: Costly power outages do not arise from a lack of generation. They are, instead, mostly rooted in our transmission and distribution systems. Power outages due to severe weather cost between $18 billion and $33 billion per year. A grid transformation that incorporates energy efficiency, distributed generation (like rooftop solar power), and proven, innovative tools like demand response (which is used by utilities to reward people who use less electricity during times of peak, or high, energy demand) can enhance reliability. We have every reason to believe that an energy system that seamlessly knits together centralized and distributed power generation is possible and will meet our energy needs more reliably and cost-effectively.
  • States should lead the way in accelerating this transformationIn order to realize the clean energy benefits of this transformation, we need to unleash the innovation we see in the states – because they know how to deploy these clean energy solutions. Reliability of the power grid is best protected when state utility commissions and state air agencies are empowered with flexible standards to work on local and/or regional solutions to meet these challenges.

Our history and experience have demonstrated that our country can weather this transition without threatening our non-negotiable commitment to reliability. But to do that, we do need to tap all of the tools at our disposal to ensure a robust, dependable, and integrated energy system that is no longer dependent exclusively upon centralized generation. Managed properly, it can deliver benefits to electricity consumers, the economy, the environment, generators, innovators, and workers alike.

Was I successful in my mission to share EDF’s vision for low-carbon, clean energy economy with the U.S. Senators? Only time will tell.

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