Obama-backed report calling for US grid upgrade receives solar industry approval

The national trade association of the U.S.’s soaring solar industry – Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – has backed findings published in the inaugural Quadrennial Energy Review that calls for significant change to the country’s aging energy infrastructure.

The report, commissioned by the Obama administration to assess the U.S.’s energy needs, highlights how a changing energy landscape that includes greater levels of solar and wind power, an increase in severe weather events and a heightened risk of cyber attacks demands the U.S. electric grid be upgraded to deal with these new realities.

SEIA VP for communications Ken Johnson said: "We agree with the findings of the Quadrennial Energy Review that a top priority should be placed on modernizing America’s electric grid to better accommodate renewable energy sources and the growth of distributed generation, such as rooftop solar.

"Today’s grid is ancient, aging ungracefully and facing enormous challenges in the future – from meeting America’s day-to-day electricity needs to national security threats.”

The report outlines how the U.S. electric grid now stands at a "strategic inflection point", stressing that although there are increased threats from climate extremes and cyber-hackers, as well as the inherent challenges of ensuring the grid adapts to the nature of increasing sources of renewable energy, there are also opportunities to create jobs, improve the energy efficiency of the nation and lower greenhouse gases.

"The U.S. energy system is going through dramatic changes," said Ernie Moniz, U.S. Energy Secretary, following the release of the report. "This places a high premium on investing wisely in the energy infrastructure we need to move energy supplies to energy consumers."

Lack of investment

The Quadrennial Energy Review’s chief finding has been a distinct lack of timely investment in the grid, noting that much of its infrastructure is "simply old or obsolete". Around 50% of gas transmission and gathering pipelines in the U.S., the report notes, were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, meaning changes in the modern world pose a greater threat than previously.

"Threats to the grid – ranging from geomagnetic storms that can knock out crucial transformers; to terrorist attacks on transmission lines and substations; to more flooding, faster sea-level rise, and increasingly powerful storms from global climate change – have been growing even as society’s dependence on the grid has increased," said the report.

Despite being one of the world’s most robust grids, the U.S. grid needs to be developed to make room for rooftop solar – which is a rapidly growing portion of the distributed energy generation sector – and greater renewable energy and battery-stored power, adds the report.

"For renewables in particular, the grid doesn’t exist in many place that offer the best solar resources – or what infrastructure does exist is already committed to other generation sources," stressed SEIA’s Johnson. "Simply put, new or upgraded transmission capabilities will help to move power from where it’s generated to where people need it the most.

"Without question, dramatic changes to the grid are needed in the years ahead, and we applaud President Obama and DOE Secretary Moniz for making this important issue a national call-to-action."

The DOE has called for massive grid infrastructure investment over the next ten years, and Moniz has this week met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and White House science advisor John Holdren at a power event in Philadelphia to discuss the findings of the Quadrennial Energy Review.

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