Moniz touts plans for building ‘grid of the future’

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz today outlined the Obama administration’s vision of a more resilient U.S. electric grid capable of handling severe weather linked to climate change.

Addressing the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers smart grid conference in Washington, D.C., Moniz said the administration aims to shape an energy network with reduced emissions and a grid that’s tough enough to withstand rising temperatures and fierce storms.

“We really need to think through the grid of the future but also the utility of the future,” Moniz said. “Something that I think we need to focus increasingly on, a future in which overall demand is flat, perhaps declining, which is part and parcel of what we want to do in terms of reducing emissions … [and] providing an economic benefit.”

The administration, he said, is attempting to cap carbon emissions from the energy sector while also making the system more resilient and efficient.

“Many of our carbon emissions, most of our carbon emissions are energy-related; much of that is associated with the power sector, the grid,” he said. “As we’ve already indicated, Mother Nature is returning the favor, exacting a climate-related toll on the health and the viability of our energy infrastructures.”

Moniz pointed to President Obama’s climate plan that forced the Department of Energy to focus on infrastructure and “the grid of the future,” as well as the launch of a far-reaching Quadrennial Energy Review that focuses on the country’s aging transmission and pipelines.

He also said $4.5 billion of stimulus fostered the deployment of more than 15 million smart meters, thousands of automated switches and capacitors within distribution grids, and hundreds of “synchrophasors” — equipment that leads to faster restoration of the grid after storms.

The country is also seeing reductions in demand for energy, he said.

“All of these are going to be important as we look to the grid, the utility of the future,” he said.

DOE warned in a report last year that rising temperatures, decreasing water availability, more severe storms and rising seas stemming from climate change are already affecting every part of the country’s energy sector, and those threats will only grow more severe in years to come (Greenwire, July 11, 2013).

Moniz today echoed that message and said widespread power outages are becoming more common, affecting home heating, power generation and transportation sectors. During the past decade, the United States lost tens of billions of dollars from more than 679 widespread power outages tied to weather events, he said.

Superstorm Sandy, he said, was a “somber reminder” that the grid is critical to transportation fuels, while recent winter storms left three-quarters of a million people across 15 states without power.

The secretary also pointed to “incredible” natural gas price spikes in New England during January’s polar vortex and separate propane shortages in the Midwest, where supplies were cut short to 3 million homes because of pipeline constraints until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stepped in (Greenwire, Feb. 7).

Nuclear power plants, unconventional oil, natural gas, hydropower and bioenergy are all “vulnerable to changes in our weather” patterns, he said.

“We’ll continue to have these kinds of challenges, especially if the statistically expected increase in severe weather continues to be realized,” Moniz said.