America’s Electric Grid Has A $2 Trillion Problem

  • The U.S. power grid is strained as-is, with disruption and outages becoming more frequent in many regions.
  • Regulatory ‘nightmare’ makes investments in the grid more complicated.
  • Grid upgrades may cost up to $2 trillion through 2050.

Getting America to reach the goals of zero-carbon electricity generation by 2035 and net-zero economy by 2050 with a surge in electric vehicle transportation and renewable power installations will require massive investments in outdated power transmission lines and building thousands of miles of new lines. The undertaking is huge, and it’s so huge not only because the price tag for making the U.S. grid capable of handling a net-zero economy is estimated at a couple of trillion dollars.    Permitting, regulation and uncertainty over who is and should be in charge of the massive transformation of the power grid are also major hurdles to booming renewable power generation and massive adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

The U.S. power grid is strained as-is, with disruption and outages becoming more frequent in many regions where local grid operators struggle to keep the lights on in case of extreme winter weather or heat. Those events would only become more frequent with climate change, such as the current early heat wave in Texas, which is testing ERCOT’s ability to withstand a surge in power demand.

In recent days, grid operators from a growing number of states started warning about electricity shortages as grids cannot cope with the imbalance between demand and supply heading into summer. California warned last week that it would need to produce more electricity than it is currently producing to avoid blackouts. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the nonprofit charged with operating the power grid in 15 U.S. states and Manitoba, issued a warning about outages during the summer.

If grids are warning they may not be able to cope with a surge in power demand now, what would they do if renewables were to become the dominant source of electricity generation (provided that the Biden Administration’s goals of a carbon-free grid by 2035 and 50 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States in 2030 be zero-emission vehicles are met)?