Creaky U.S. power grid threatens clean-energy progress

STORY: The U.S. clean-energy business is booming.

Soaring electric-car sales and fast growth in wind and solar power are raising hopes for the fight against climate change.

But all this progress could be derailed.

The culprit? America’s decaying electric infrastructure.

Industry experts say the power grid needs a massive overhaul, something that could cost more than $2 trillion.

The current national power grid is decaying with age and underinvestment,

a condition highlighted by catastrophic failures during increasingly frequent and severe weather events.

Remember when the Texas grid nearly collapsed during a cold snap in February 2021?

It left millions of Texans without electricity, water and heat for days.

(Reuters’ Tim McLaughlin) ‘’’The grid is not engineered to withstand these extreme weather events.’’

Reuters’ Tim McLaughlin examined federal data that showed power outages over the last six years more than doubled compared to the previous six years.

''The U.S. grid is actually four separate grids and they sprawl out across the United States. But the connections among them are extremely limited. So, this prevents different regions from sharing power, especially during extreme weather events, which obviously are becoming more frequent with climate change. A lot of the grid that see that is in place today was built 30, 40, 50, even 100 years ago. Some of this equipment is still being used.’’

The decrepit power infrastructure of the world’s largest economy

is among the biggest obstacles to achieving President Joe Biden’s ambitious clean energy agenda.

His administration promises to eliminate or offset carbon emissions from the power sector by 2035, and from the entire U.S. economy by 2050.

That will put even further pressure on the nation’s grid.

''We do not have the infrastructure yet to, you know, sort of handle all these electric cars that we're forecasting in the country. So it's great that we are going to cut carbon emissions with more electric vehicles, but the grid is not yet there in terms of them being able to handle it all. Meanwhile, the grid still relies heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. So it's going to be hard for the Biden administration to hit some of these targets that they've laid out for 2035 and 2050 down the road.''

So who can fix this?

The Biden administration said in April that it plans to offer $2.5 billion in grants for grid-modernization projects as part of Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.

But the federal government doesn’t have the authority to push through the massive grid expansion and modernization needed.

Under the current system, infrastructure investments are controlled by a web of local, state and regional regulators who have strong political incentives to hold down spending.

That’s according to Reuters interviews with industry experts.

"You have all these different states who are regulating what happens in their state, and that's what they're focused on, and they're focused on keeping electric rates low. So there's very little cooperation among the states. And the politics involved is a nightmare.’’

''It's going to be up to the states actually to get on board and cooperate with each other, to actually build something that may not benefit them right away. And they'll have to have a more long term thought process and say, hey, let's do this because it's for the greater good, not necessarily just for us. And so basically, the whole country has has to shed sort of a selfish mindset in order to get the grid, you know, in a way that is a national asset that can help everyone and leave us less vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events.’’

Upgrading the grid won’t be cheap or easy.

A Princeton University study estimates all the fixes and updates will cost about $2.4 trillion by 2050.

It’s a massive to-do list. And it belongs to no one in particular.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting