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Biden administration earmarks $13b to modernize electric grid

We need more transmission capacity, and we needed it yesterday

The US electric grid badly needs to modernize, and the Biden administration says it's ready to give as much as $13 billion to organizations willing to make it happen.

Utilizing funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Grid Resilience Innovation Partnership (GRIP) and Transmission Facilitation Programs have opened applications to grid operators, power companies, researchers, local governments, and other entities seeking to pitch projects – and none too soon.

According to the Department of Energy, the US needs to add 60 percent more electrical transmission capacity to the grid by 2030, and may need to triple current capacity by 2050 to accommodate the transition to clean energy and additional demand from home and automotive electrification. 

At the same time, "nearly 70 percent of the nation's grid [is] more than 25 years old," said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "We are moving swiftly to deliver cleaner, cheaper energy to every American community by building a modern and reliable electric grid."

The Department of Energy said earlier this year that it was confident that the US grid could run entirely on clean energy.

Getting a GRIP on the grid

Of the $13 billion allocated in the announcement, $10.5 billion of it is going to the GRIP program, which was established "to enhance grid flexibility and improve the resilience of the power system against growing threats of extreme weather and climate change," the DoE said. 

There are three areas to bid for funds from: $2.5 billion for grid resilience, $3 billion for smart grids, and $5 billion for innovative grid concepts. 

Organizations seeking funds for resiliency initiatives will need to show ideas for "transmission and distribution technology solutions that will mitigate multiple hazards across a region or within a community," by which the DoE is referring to weather events like extreme cold, storms, wildfires and similar.

Smart grid grants are what they sound like, and will allocate funds for organizations planning to "increase the flexibility, efficiency, reliability, and resilience of the electric power system." In this case the DoE is looking for projects focusing on increasing capacity transmission systems and developing software that can anticipate and prevent faults due to events like extreme weather.

Grid Innovation grants will help grid owners and operators "deploy projects that use innovative approaches to transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure to enhance grid resilience and reliability." 

Getting ahead of the lowest bidder

The Transmission Facilitation Program is getting the remaining $2.5 billion, which will be put into a revolving fund that seems to have been created to prevent cheap construction of power lines that would undercut future electrification.

Using the $2.5 billion, the DoE will commit to buying up to 50 percent of the maximum capacity of newly installed transmission lines. The DoE plans to fund late-stage projects with the cash, which it hopes will increase investor and customer confidence, along with reducing "the risk of project developers under-building or under-sizing needed transmission capacity projects," the DoE said. 

The Biden administration has set a deadline for the US to transition to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, and for the federal government to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which may still not be enough to offset the effects of climate change. ®

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