The nation’s electricity grid delivers electricity that is essential for modern life. However, the electric utility industry faces significant challenges, including aging infrastructure, changes in the sources of power generation, and increased physical and cybersecurity risks.
The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have key responsibilities related to the electric utility industry. For example, DOE seeks to ensure that the nation’s energy delivery system is secure, resilient, and reliable. DOE is also responsible for things like collaborating with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure, identifying vulnerabilities, and helping to mitigate incidents. FERC regulates wholesale electricity markets and is responsible for reviewing and approving mandatory electric reliability standards.
These and other federal agencies play various roles in addressing challenges facing the electric utility industry.
- Deployment of energy storage and solar and other technologies could make electricity grids operate more efficiently and provide other benefits—such as cleaner generation of electricity. However, these technologies also present challenges, such as uncertainty about how they perform over time and in various operating conditions.
- The federal government has a significant role in addressing cybersecurity risks facing the electricity grid, even though most of the grid is owned and operated by private industry. DOE has developed plans to implement a strategy for addressing grid cybersecurity risks, and FERC has approved mandatory grid cybersecurity standards. However, both DOE and FERC could improve their efforts in these areas. For instance, DOE should ensure the plans it develops to implement the federal cybersecurity strategy more fully address risks to the grid’s distribution systems.
- Federal agencies coordinate to support local electric utilities in restoring power after a disaster. For example, agencies took unprecedented roles in restoring power in Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. However, DOE should address lessons learned from previous disasters to prioritize recovery efforts. In addition, DOE should coordinate its efforts to enhance the electricity grid’s resilience to climate change, and FERC should also assess grid climate risks. DOE is also developing planning tools, such as metrics to track grid resilience, but could better guide these efforts and better inform utilities about available resources.
Hurricane Maria Damaged Power Lines in Puerto Rico in November 2017
- The federal government owns significant electricity generating capacity and transmission assets, which are managed by federal entities like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA has faced challenges managing its unfunded pension liabilities and should take steps to ensure that its pension plan is fully funded.