Coming all too soon to an aging, overburdened, decrepit electric grid near you.
A Silent Threat to the Energy Transition: America’s Broken Infrastructure Policy
So much of the conversation focuses on the tired and misleading narrative about Oil & Gas villains vs. Renewable heroes. The true enemy of our sustainable energy future is the nation’s broken infrastructure policy. We could greenlight every renewable project in development today and innovate every piece of technology needed to meet our climate goals, and it wouldn’t matter because we lack the ability to utilize and store the energy we create.
Infrastructure isn’t top of mind for most people, but it has gotten more attention in recent years, particularly after Congress passed the massive $1 trillion infrastructure bill in 2021. The legislation included funding for everything from airport repairs to clean drinking water. It also contained the largest investment in clean energy transmission and the electric grid in U.S. history – $65 billion – to be used for new transmission lines for renewable energy, advanced transmission and distribution technologies, and research hubs for next-generation technologies, including carbon capture and clean hydrogen.
But what good are new transmission lines and next-gen technologies if they never make it past the black hole of red tape, interminable delays, supply-chain problems, and exploding costs that derail so many energy projects?
Much of the U.S. grid was built in the 1960s and 1970s, and over 70% of it is currently more than a quarter-century old. But age isn’t the grid’s only problem. The U.S. power infrastructure was built to bring energy from where fossil fuels are burned to where the energy will be used. The nation’s electricity industry, meanwhile, grew via a patchwork of local utility companies whose targets were to meet local demand and maintain grid reliability.
Emissions-free energy sources like sun and wind are, by nature, intermittent. They’re abundant only in places where the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, and therefore need to be stored and transmitted to other locations where there is demand for power.
Along with the need for new ways to transmit and store sustainable energy, the existing grid will need a major upgrade as demand for electricity rises to meet the needs of electric vehicles, heat pumps, and other replacements for conventional energy sources. A modernized and expanded grid “will be the backbone of the energy transition – and a requirement of any realistic decarbonization pathway,” according to a 2022 report by McKinsey & Company.
There is no silver bullet to fix this complex set of issues. But it’s clear we need a strategic approach to infrastructure investment, and fast. Part of that investment needs to come from Washington in the form of comprehensive policy and regulatory reform, which is the single biggest blocker to private investment and healthy competition in the energy sector.
Simply put, building energy projects is complicated. Who pays for what is even more complicated, as processes, permitting, payment, and incentivization are all misaligned. Current policy doesn’t support the buildout we need; in fact, it slows it down and exacerbates the problem. Without policy and regulatory reform, we’ll continue to pay more and more to maintain our quality of life. Even worse, we’ll never reach the finish line in the race to a sustainable energy future.
I’ll say it yet again: funny, innit, how almost all of our contemporary woes have their origins in the same place: a greedy, grasping, over-powerful central goobermint?
(Via Bayou Peter)