Power outages and power quality disturbances cost the U.S. economy between $80 billion and $188 billion per year. Transmission and distribution losses in the U.S. were about 5% in 1970, and grew to 9.5% in 2001, due to heavier utilization and more frequent congestion.
Analyses of these data collected revealed that in the period from 1991 to 2000, there were 76 outages of 100 MW or more in the second half of the decade compared to 66 such occurrences in the first half (Figure 1). Furthermore, there were 41% more outages affecting 50,000 or more consumers in the second half of the 1990s than in the first half (58 outages in 1996–2000 versus 41 outages in 1991–1995). Further analyses show that there were 200 outages of 100 MW or more during 2001-2005; such outages have increased to 219 during 2006-May 2010. Additionally, the number of U.S. power outages affecting 50,000 or more consumers increased from 197 (during 2001-2005) to 312 (during 2006-May 2010).
Adjusting for 2% per year increase in load to 2001 levels, the above outages reflect the following trend: there were 189 outages of 100 MW or more during 2001-2005; such outages have slightly increased to 190 during 2006-May 2010. Assuming the same 2% annual demand growth, the number of U.S. power outages affecting 50,000 or more consumers increased from 186 (during 2001-2005) to 297 (during 2006-May 2010).
As an energy professional and electrical engineer, I cannot imagine how anyone could believe that in the United States we should learn to “cope” with these increasing blackouts— and that we don’t have the technical know-how, the political will, or the money to bring our power grid up to 21st century standards. Coping as a primary strategy is ultimately defeatist. We absolutely can meet the needs of a pervasively digital society that relies on microprocessor-based devices in vehicles, homes, offices, and industrial facilities. And it is not just a matter of “can.” We must—if the United States is to continue to be an economic power. However, the deployment of smart grids will not be easy or cheap.
The costs of full implementation for a nationwide Smart Grid range over a 20-year period (2010-2030):
- A study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) published in January 2010 revealed that the actual costs will come closer to $165 billion over the course of 20 years.
- According to energy consulting firm Brattle Group, the necessary investment to achieve an overhaul of the entire electricity infrastructure and a smart grid is $1.5 trillion spread over 20 years (~$75 billion/year), including new generators and power delivery systems.
- My work from 1998-present has shown that it will cost $10-$13 billion/year for 10 years or longer; about $150 to $170 billion over this period.
Despite the costs of implementation, integration of the Smart Grid will result in:
- Costs of outages reduced by about $49B per year
- Increased efficiency and reduced emissions by 12-18% per year (PNNL report, January 2010)
- A greater than 4% reduction in energy use by 2030; translating into $20.4 billion in savings
- More efficient to move electrical power through the transmission system than to ship fuels the same distance. With goals of increased efficiency, sustainability, reliability, security and resilience, we need both:
- Local microgrids (that can be as self-sufficient as possible and island rapidly during emergencies)
- Interconnected, smarter and stronger power grid backbone that can efficiently integrate intermittent sources, and to provide power for end-to-end electrification of transportation
- Reduction in the cost of infrastructure expansion and overhaul in response to annual peaks. The demand response and smart grid applications could reduce these costs significantly.
- Increased cyber/IT security, and overall energy security, if security is built in the design as part of a layered defense system architecture
- Electricity’s unique capability to be produced from a wide variety of local energy sources, along with its precision, cleanliness, and efficiency, make it the ideal energy carrier for economic and social development.
In addition, the current high-voltage system needs to be expanded and strengthened (U.S. DOE National Electric Transmission Congestion Study, AEP HV transmission assessment for wind integration, and EPRI assessments 2003-2009). The total cost of the expanded transmission system is about $82 billion.
In summary, a stronger and smart grid would pay for itself by increasing efficiency by 5% (translating into $20.4 billion in savings annually) and reducing costs of outages by about $49 billion per year. It’d also reduce emissions by 12-18% per year, increase overall energy security and spur economic growth.
A key challenge before us is whether the electricity infrastructure which underpins our economy, society, and quality-of-life will evolve to become the primary support for the 21st century’s digital society- a smart grid with self-healing capabilities that powers our innovation and economy – or be left behind as an 20th century industrial relic? And finally: What are the costs of not implementing change?
We must modernize the electric power infrastructure and evolve it into a smarter, stronger, more secure and more resilient system. Electricity is the lynchpin, and enabling the infrastructure for all knowledge- and innovation-based economies.
Dr. Massoud Amin is the Director of the Technological Leadership Institute (TLI) at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. TLI offers graduate studies programs in security technologies, management of technology and infrastructure systems engineering.
[image credit static416 via Flickr]