Cyber Threats, Storms, and Microgrids: The U.S. Quadrennial Energy Review

April 23, 2015
The U.S. government releases a milestone energy plan. And yes, it includes microgrids. A look inside the first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review.

A milestone energy document released this week gives insight into how federal officials plan to shape the U.S. energy system. And yes, microgrids are very much a part of the plan.

In the first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review, the Obama administration offered a multi-billion dollar roadmap for improving the nation’s oil, gas and electricity delivery systems.

The document paints a picture of an electric grid pressured to accommodate new technologies, while dealing with cybersecurity threats and weather extremes — all at a time in history when society can’t withstand long-term power loss.

As the report points out, without reliable power, the nation loses systems vital to a modern society:  navigation, telecommunications, banking, healthcare, emergency response, and the Internet.

“Yet the 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,” the report said.

This opens the door for microgrids and related technologies, which are mentioned several times as solutions to problems in the energy delivery sector.

The report also makes clear that today’s grid problems are as much about regulation and business models, as they are about physical threats. The grid is operating under rules of a century ago, even as the electric industry innovates at a rate never before seen.

The nation needs to overcome this institutional, regulatory, and business lag, if it is to take full advantage of technologies that can keep the lights on and help meet climate change goals. The report lists these technologies as: energy efficiency, energy storage, carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles, microgrids and other distributed energy resources, as well as nuclear, natural gas, and renewable energy.

The grid of the future should “enable the operation of microgrids that range from individual buildings to multi-firm industrial parks and operate in both integrated and autonomous modes,” the report said.

As part of a larger grid modernization effort, expected to cost more than $3.5 billion over a decade, the plan lays out federal smart grid efforts that will lead to more microgrids and similar tech.  In particular, it cites the need for next-generation distribution management system and controls.

Microgrids will not only help modernize the interconnected grid, but can also serve remote regions with no grid connection.

To that end, the quadrennial review envisions microgrids playing a role in integrating and strengthening trade in the larger North American and related Caribbean markets. Canada is the U.S. largest energy trading partner, with trades valued at $140 billion in 2013.

The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Department of the Interior are looking closely at  microgrids and small scale energy tech for the Arctic. Beginning this month, the U.S. will chair the eight-nation Arctic Council. During its two-year term, the U.S. plans to propose initiatives to address climate change, including development of microgrids and local energy to ease use of diesel fuels. The U.S. government also is looking at ways to help the Caribbean develop more resilient and clean energy.

Along with releasing the quadrennial review,  the DOE created a utility partnership to work on making the electric grid more resilient to severe weather.  The CEOs of 17 leading utilities will meet with the DOE April 30 to launch their activities. The companies include:

  • Consolidated Edison
  • Dominion Virginia Power
  • Entergy
  • Exelon
  • Great River Energy
  • Hoosier Energy
  • Iberdrola USA
  • National Grid
  • New York Power Authority
  • Pacific Gas and Electric
  • PEPCO Holdings
  • Public Service Electricity and Gas
  • Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)
  • San Diego Gas and Electric/Sempra
  • Seattle City Light
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Xcel Energy

The report also takes an indepth look at energy security, fuel transportation and supply, environmental impact,  employment and other pressing energy issues. Called “Quadrennial Energy Review: Energy Transmission, Storage and Distribution Infrastructure,” the report can be downloaded 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.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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