First Quadrennial Energy Review calls for major investment in grid

The Obama administration rolled out its much-anticipated Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) document on April 20, and it marks an ambitious effort to chronicle major changes in the U.S. energy system and outline infrastructure needs for the future.

The full document is more than 300 pages. There is also a 34-page “summary for policymakers” and a fact sheet.

The QER process leading up to publication of the document has covered everything from greenhouse gases, declining oil imports, the rise of non-traditional power generation and the need to modernize the electric transmission grid.

Indeed the first installment of the QER focuses chiefly on infrastructures for energy transmission, storage, and distribution (TS&D). As is often the case with major studies, it calls both for investment in upgraded technology as well as for more regional planning and coordination.

In the “Climate Action Plan” unveiled by President Obama in June 2013, he directed his administration to initiate an interagency review to help ensure, in this dramatically changing energy landscape, that federal energy policy is appropriately matched to the nation’s economic, security, and climate goals.

The first installment covers increasing the resilience and reliability of the grid infrastructure, better positioning it for a changing North American marketplace. It also covers issues that include infrastructure project permitting and workforce training issues.

More than a decade ago, a Department of Energy (DOE) report pronounced the U.S. electricity grid “aging, inefficient, congested, and incapable of meeting the future energy needs of the information economy without significant operational changes and substantial public-private capital investment over the next several decades,” according to the QER.

Although significant improvements have been made to the grid since then, the basic conclusion of the need to modernize the grid remains salient, according to the QER. “The Edison Electric Institute estimated in 2008 that by 2030 the U.S. electric utility industry would need to make a total infrastructure investment of $1.5 trillion to $2.0 trillion, of which transmission and distribution are expected to account for about $900.0 billion,” according to the report.

“Modernization of the grid has been made all the more urgent by the increasing and now virtually pervasive dependence of modern life on a reliable supply of electricity,” the administration says in the QER.

“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 even as society’s dependence on the grid has increased,” according to the document.

The summary document includes illustrations that show the large number of coastal electric substations that could be exposed to various sea-level rise scenarios.

Among various electric grid recommendations included in the QER, it calls for DOE to look at the state and regional framework for energy storage development and how that might affect grid flexibility.

This concern extends to fuel storage and transportation as well. Close to 50% of the nation’s gas transmission and gathering pipelines were built in the 1950s and 1960s. “Analyses conducted for the QER suggest that natural gas interstate pipeline investment will range between $2.6 billion and $3.5 billion per year between 2015 and 2030, depending on the overall level of natural gas demand,” according to the document.

“In 2014, renewable energy sources accounted for half of new installed electric-generation capacity, and natural gas units made up most of the remainder,” according to the document summary. “Electricity generation from wind grew 3.3-fold between 2008 and 2014, and electricity generation from solar energy grew more than 20-fold.”



About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at