Sen. Cantwell Seeks Help on Grid Modernization from National Academy of Sciences

July 20, 2016
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has asked the National Academy of Sciences to assist Congress as it considers increasing federal funding for grid modernization, including microgrids.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has asked the National Academy of Sciences to assist Congress as it considers federal funding for grid modernization, including microgrids.

In a July 15 letter, the Democrat from Washington seeks the academy’s help with legislation now in conference committee that focuses on microgrids, grid storage and distribution level grid investments. The legislation proposes public private partnerships, federal assistance with state planning, and technology R&D and deployment.

A new electric grid not only would help empower U.S. consumers, but also opens tremendous opportunity “to convert our domestic experience with grid modernization into a global commercial opportunity,” she wrote.

Worldwide the grid needs about $16.4 trillion in upgrades over the next 20 years, she said, with the International Energy Agency pegging about 90 percent of the investment outside of the U.S.

The letter described a need for fast, flexible bulk electric storage, high voltage power electronics and advanced control methods. These technologies will become as fundamental to the grid as a power transformer or circuit breaker is today, she said, quoting the Pacific Northwest National Lab.

While the private sector will drive grid modernization, the federal government can play a role to “fill gaps, smooth bumps, accelerate changes,” she said.

“Because the electric industry is large, balkanized and by its nature often pursuing a profitable rate of return, the federal government is best positioned to focus on a more general public good,” she said.

Cantwell specifically seeks the academy’s help identifying:

  • How the electric industry is likely to evolve in the U.S. and what end-state architecture is likely, particularly on the distribution level
  • No-regrets and strategic investments likely to create a platform for a more efficient grid, such as analytics and simulation tools
  • The extent federal policy should focus on behind-the-meter technology and grid design issues in light of the likely widespread use of distributed energy and storage.
  • Gaps in federal policy that will make it hard for utilities to recover costs or earn a competitive rate of return
  • Ways to protect the grid from cyberattack as it is modernized.

Cantwell’s letter to the academy is available here.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

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