Last week, the Obama administration released two executive orders and its first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a document that lays out a variety of ways the U.S. can update its grid and diversify its energy mix to include more sources like renewable energy.
The QER, an initiative that stemmed from President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, calls for more than $15 billion in new programs, grants, and tax credits to update America’s pipelines, electric grid, and other energy infrastructure — spending that will have to be approved by Congress. It also makes several recommendations for how the U.S. can best take its energy infrastructure into the 21st century.
The report arrives at a pivotal time. As the nation looks to integrate more renewable energy, natural gas, and biofuels – and do so more efficiently – the grid needs to keep up. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers granted the nation’s energy infrastructure a D+ grade. Central to the QER is the premise that modernizing America’s infrastructure will keep the nation secure and thriving, particularly with extreme weather on the rise.
Now that the QER has been released, pending Congressional budget approval, different agencies will work to formulate plans from the administration’s roadmap. Here are six things — in the QER and the two executive orders — that the administration calls for, creates, and recommends to help the U.S. build energy infrastructure that’s resilient to climate change, something Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz calls a threat major to the grid.
A strategy to curb methane and black carbon
Methane and black carbon are super-charged global warming pollutants, and two of the biggest sources of these pollutants are natural gas and diesel, respectively. As the nation increasingly depends on natural gas, the Department of Energy (DOE) will work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update the Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Right now, methane emissions from natural gas development aren’t regulated, though in January, the White House announced plans to cut the sector’s emissions of the greenhouse gas. Expanding the Greenhouse Gas Inventory will help the government figure out where to target attention going forward.
The QER also calls on Congress to fund the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which will help to curb black carbon – a key contributor to rapid warming of the Arctic and negative health outcomes.
A utility-led discussion on climate change resilience
Among the White House’s executive actions announced alongside the QER was the creation of the Partnership for Energy Sector Climate Resilience, a group that will bring together CEOs from 17 utilities — including Pacific Gas and Electric, Dominion Virginia Power, and Exelon — to talk about how they will ensure electrical services as increasing instances of extreme weather like drought, flooding, and heat waves disrupt their supply chains. The discussions will kick off at a White House event on April 30th.
An energy upgrade for rural America
The White House’s second executive action was the announcement of funding for “major investments to drive solar energy” and key infrastructure upgrades to transmission lines and smart grid projects in rural regions, an effort the administration hopes will help keep these economies and isolated communities resilient to climate change impacts. Communities serviced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Electric Program will benefit from projects modernizing their energy infrastructure as part of the nation’s larger transition to a more resilient, lower-carbon energy system.
A call to work together with Canada and Mexico
Natural resources, pipelines, transmission lines, and pollution don’t stop at the U.S. border. Canada and Mexico are two of the U.S.’s top trading partners and, the QER argues, it is in the national interest for America’s neighbors to be resilient and climate-smart too. Increased collaboration can “capture greater efficiencies and enhance each country’s ability to reach economic, security, and environmental goals,” the report states. The QER also proposes an initiative to comparatively examine gaps and best practices in energy regulation among the three nations.
An overall plan to modernize the grid
Electricity is the engine of the U.S. economy, so the country should have an electric grid to match — but it doesn’t. In 2003, DOE stated the grid is “aging, inefficient, congested, and incapable of meeting the future energy needs of the information economy without significant operation changes.” Even with some improvements, the DOE states in the QER that a massive effort and need for investment to upgrade the grid remains.
Improving the grid could make it easier for renewable energy to thrive in the U.S. According to the QER, “energy efficiency, smart grid technologies, storage, and distributed generation can contribute to enhanced resiliency and reduced pollution, as well as provide operational flexibility for grid operators,” which could help bring online more renewable energy. Among the QER’s recommendations are increasing research and development to help integrate technological innovations into the grid modernization process and establishing a way to value new technology and grid services.
A call for back-up energy plans for states
The QER recommends that the DOE create a competitive grant program to incentivize states to “demonstrate innovative approaches… enhancing resilience and reliability.” These plans may be eligible for grants in the future. The QER’s focus on state plans is important because some state energy plans are over a decade old and not equipped to meet current challenges or take advantage of recent technological innovations. Asking states to develop plans examining their energy infrastructure will help officials in the public and private sector decide how they will identify and prevent potential energy disruption going forward, particularly as the climate changes.