The reliability of America’s power grid is increasingly threatened while technologies needed to alleviate stress on the grid are delayed due to a lack of financial incentives and research and development, according to a new EPRI report.
One hundred fifty participants contributed to the Electricity Technology Roadmap, which states that escalating demands for electricity and an outdated power delivery grid combine to pose a serious threat to the U.S. economy. Unless the issue is addressed, the demands of the information age will challenge America’s electric infrastructure, the study states. Particularly at risk are the nation’s transmission and distribution lines. According to the study, the potential for large-scale outages and disruption on the grid is higher than at any time in the last 35 years. The report further warns that each new disruption could carry a higher price tag than those preceding it because communication, finance, transportation and trade are becoming increasingly dependent on a network powered by sensitive electronic equipment.
Chief among the new demands on the system is the increasing frequency of wholesale power trading. “The 50-year-old grid was simply never designed to handle the volume and frequency of power trades that we’re seeing today,” said Kurt Yeager, EPRI president and CEO. “The trend is only expected to increase as competition becomes more widely adopted.”
The EPRI report suggests that the solution lies in creating new technologies and materials to improve power capacity and control. “New technology such as power electronics and superconducting cables can help us improve reliability and meet increased demand, especially in crowded downtown areas where there is no room for new cables,” said Yeager. “But an intensified research, development and demonstration effort is needed if we are to bring these technologies to market and continue to satisfy the changing appetites for power quantity and quality in a digital economy. Our goal should be to create the superhighway system for electronic commerce in the 21st century.”
Although electricity research and development has made great strides in the last 50 years, there are many more opportunities for electricity-based innovation to serve society, according to the report. Materials research, for example, holds great promise for making solar energy a viable complement to fossil fuels. And microminiature electronic sensors, coupled with powerful microprocessor control, promises to revolutionize manufacturing and operations efficiency. But, the study points out, funding for energy research has declined over the past decade and currently is at a 20-year low.
“Our nation’s future stability and prosperity are seriously threatened by the shrinking support for energy research and development,” said Yeager. “We’re essentially shutting down the engine for our booming technology-driven economy and jeopardizing the environment at the same time.”