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The Need for a National Energy Grid Strategy by J. Michael Barrett U.S. energy consumers have been able to count on reliable, alwayson and relatively resilient electrical power for so many decades that for most people the availability of electrical power is essentially taken as a given. And yet there is a looming sense among many experts of a rise in systemic risks that have begun to come into the light, ranging from threats of physical and cyber attack to space weather and other natural phenomenon. Indeed, just last year the Department of Defense released a request for proposals involving resilient electrical power that led to a recent commentary noting, “The declaration of DOD is clear: military bases and the civilian institutions that they depend on are overwhelmingly vulnerable to their own near complete reliance on unprepared civilian power grids. The DOD has already started the process of changing by developing distributed energy systems under their own control.” And yet the U.S. electric power grid remains indispensable for continued American prosperity and well-being, even as the grid’s infrastructure is aging and increasingly outdated. The massive capital needs of this enormous system require constant investment and occasional system-wide overhauls. These represent a particular concern for the investor-owned electric utilities, for whom making the business case for higher rates to enable investments just to tread water is hard enough, much less investments meant to innovate and implement large-scale modernization programs. At the same time, the grid is a very large system, with a long list of items that need to be replaced for a variety 10 of reasons including: physical wear and tear, technical obsolescence, and the critical importance of meeting the security and power surety needs of Americans in the 21st century. This includes everything from integration of environmentally friendly alternative means of power generation to replacing the beyondexpected-service-life equipment such as the large power transformers, as well as the two-way communications built into smart meters and making the move towards interchangeable parts and other standardizations that increase efficiency of ‘spares and repairs.’ While the concerns over a truly resilient and “disaster-proof ” electrical power system are on the rise, however, there is no central effort to develop a smart roadmap to get the nation from where we are to where we need to be. Part of the problem is bureaucratic – there are multiple competing equities among the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, and Defense, and that is just on the federal side. The power grid is More on page 43
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