As energy becomes an increasing focus, problems with the U.S. power grid are coming under even more scrutiny. The grid is becoming less and less reliable at the same time that consumers are becoming more dependent on electricity to power phones, computers, and electric vehicles.
The U.S. power grid has become less dependable over the past 20 years, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, which found there were 180 “major disruptions” of power in 2020, which is up from under 24 in 2000.
Recent events have brought increased attention about reliability of the power grid to American consumers. The Texas freeze left 4.5 million people without power last winter and the wildfires in California forced PG&E to turn off power to nearly 50,000 residents.
Some 70% of transmission and distribution lines are far into the second half of their lifespans of 50 years, according to a report last year by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Most of these power lines were built above ground, unlike Europe where they’re underground, which makes them more susceptible to weather problems, including storms.
Another factor is the push for “green energy.” When customers opt for electric appliances and electric vehicles, they’ll need access to even more power, which would likely put a strain on the energy system.
Wind and solar rely on weather conditions and the time of day to be effective, meaning they aren’t as dependable as traditional sources, like coal and natural gas.
Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst for energy and environmental issues at The Heritage Foundation, spoke to The Daily Wire about this issue.
She noted, “there is no perfect energy resource, or at least we haven’t invented it yet. So every energy technology or fuel has costs and benefits. Wind and solar renewables…their benefit is that the wind power’s free….Power from the sun is free…but they have also a lot of liabilities to them.”
In 2020, renewable energy sources like wind and solar made up around 20% of utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S. Nuclear power accounted for 20% and fossil fuels made up the majority at about 60%.
Consumers are also responding to the increasing unreliability.
Tubb said: “One of the reasons many people are leaving California is because of their energy and environment policies are extremely expensive and they’re not seeing commensurate benefits.”
According to backup power provider Generac Holdings, only 0.57% of homes in the country worth at least $150,000 had put in backup generators 20 years ago. Now, that figure is 5.75% according to The Wall Street Journal.
Microgrids, which make small areas of power for places like businesses, campuses, and neighborhoods, are also becoming more popular. These microgrids expanded over sevenfold between 2010 and 2019, according to the industry group Edison Electric Institute.
The need for improved technology is becoming more clear, specifically when dealing with technology that can store massive amounts of electricity and send it out over days, which is something a growing number of companies are focusing on.
There is also a national security factor to the issue. Some are concerned about an attack on the U.S. grid by a foreign agent, meaning the reliability and security of the grid is becoming more important to average Americans than ever before.