DOE, White House stress power grid resilience in new report

Grid resilience is increasingly important as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather and estimates the economic impact of power outages on the nation’s economy, according to a report released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The release of the report coincides with the tenth anniversary of one of the worst power outages in the U.S., during which tens of millions of Americans were affected across parts of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.

The report, titled “Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages” report finds that grid resilience is increasingly important as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather and estimates the economic impact of power outages on the nation’s economy. President Obama’s Climate Action Plan calls for upgrading the country’s electric grid to help make electricity more reliable, save consumers money on their energy bills, and promote clean energy sources, according to the White House.

“The U.S. electric grid is a vital component of the nation’s infrastructure and delivers, transmits and distributes electric power to millions of Americans in homes, schools, offices, and factories across the United States,” said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at the DOE. “Investment in a 21st century modernized electric grid has been an important focus of President Obama’s administration and this report underscores the importance of continued cross-sector investment to make the grid more resilient to the causes of power outages, including severe weather.”

The new report focuses its analysis on the impact of power outages caused by severe weather between 2003 and 2012, finding:

·      Weather-related outages are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion.

·      Roughly 679 power outages, each affecting at least 50,000 customers, occurred due to weather events. The aging nature of the grid – much of which was constructed over a period of more than one hundred years – has made Americans more susceptible to outages caused by severe weather.

·      In 2012, the U.S. suffered eleven billion-dollar weather disasters – the second-most for any year on record, behind only 2011.

·      Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 144 weather disasters whose damage cost reached or exceeded $1 billion and seven of the ten costliest storms in U.S. history occurred between 2004 and 2012.

The report calls for increased cross-sector investment in the electric grid and identifies strategies for modernizing the grid to better prevent power outages. These strategies include conducting exercises to identify and mitigate the potential impacts of hazards to the grid; working with utilities to harden their infrastructure against wind and flood damage; increasing overall system flexibility and robustness of the grid; and supporting implementation of 21st century technologies that can quickly alert utilities when consumers experience a power outage or there is a system disruption and automatically reroute power to avoid further outages.

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