Keeping the electricity on following a disaster can be a matter of life and death. For many Americans, electricity not only powers luxuries like flat screen TVs, but also critical equipment like kidney dialysis machines. Refrigeration is critical for keeping food and medical supplies cool, and emergency responders need electricity to do their jobs.
A better model
Strengthening America’s power grid helps keep the lights on at all times, but especially when disaster strikes. The most effective way to make the power system more reliable is to build redundancy into the power network. Just as most commuters have a backup route in case their primary road to work is blocked by traffic or an accident, grid operators are required to have at least one backup path to get electricity to homes, businesses and hospitals. However, having multiple backup paths becomes particularly valuable when a disaster takes out multiple power lines simultaneously.
Unfortunately, many parts of America’s power grid are weak and congested. This causes electricity prices to be higher than they should be on a daily basis as power can’t be transmitted efficiently and consumers don’t have access to lower-cost electricity from other regions. But it also makes the system vulnerable to disruption, either due to a natural disaster or an intentional attack.
Some regions are making considerable progress at building a stronger grid. Texas and parts of the Plains and Midwest have adopted policies that pay private investors to make needed upgrades to the grid, and they have found these new transmission lines pay for themselves many times over. Other regions have found ways to streamline the process for approving transmission lines. Electricity consumers in those regions not only get more reliable power, but they also get more access to low-cost wind energy, helping to diversify their electricity mix and keep rates low. That success story can now be repeated in other parts of the country.
As America begins to focus on upgrading its infrastructure, the electricity grid should be at the top of the list of priorities. Reliable power is essential for data centers, factories and other businesses, and keeping electricity reliable and affordable is one of the best ways to maintain American competitiveness. Just as building the interstate highway system drove the American economy to lead the world in the 20th century, building a strong national power system can power our economy into the 21st century while keeping Americans safe.
Michael Goggin, Senior Director of Research, American Wind Energy Association, [email protected]