National Academies Report Calls for Coordinated Approach to Improve Power Grid’s Security and Resilience

Last week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) issued a pre-publication report focused on identifying and developing strategies to increase the power system’s resilience in the face of events that cause large-area, long-term duration blackouts.  The report, Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System, was commissioned by Congress in 2014.  NASEM concludes that improving the power system’s resilience to blackouts caused by cyber-attacks, weather events, electromagnetic events, and other threats calls for an integrated approach that will require partnerships between and among federal agencies, state agencies, and the private sector.  Although there is no way to avoid outages completely, the report emphasizes that making the nation’s power system more resilient will lessen the likelihood that blackouts occur, and will limit the scope and impact of blackouts when they inevitably do occur.

Since no single entity is in charge of planning the evolution of the grid, the report defines roles for each actor in the power system’s regulatory scheme, from the national to the local level.  These actors include operators of the electricity system, such as regional transmission organizations, investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, and municipally owned utilities; federal regulators, such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and FERC; the North American Reliability Corporation (NERC); and state public utility commissions and energy administrations.

The report recommends that operators of the electricity system conduct regional emergency preparedness exercises and that they implement new technologies and operational strategies that enhance system resilience.  At the federal level, the report calls for DOE to expand research and development on grid modernization and systems integration and to increase the resources devoted critical electric infrastructure in partnership with state and federal regulatory commissions.  In addition, the report envisions that DOE and DHS will establish a “visioning process” for systematically imagining and assessing plausible grid disruptions that could have major economic and social consequences.  Informed by those predictions, FERC and NERC would then assess and mandate strategies needed to increase the system’s resilience.

At the state and local level, the report calls for collaboration between the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the National Association of State Energy Officials, as well as state public utility commissions and energy offices to identify local and regional grid vulnerabilities, to develop strategies to reduce these vulnerabilities, and to help the public become better prepared for extended power outages.

As of July 25, 2017, there has been no comment from Congress, DOE or other executive agencies, or from the Trump Administration on the report.

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