Old and vulnerable: The growing urgency to modernize the U.S. power grid
- October 1, 2023: Vol. 10, Number 9

Old and vulnerable: The growing urgency to modernize the U.S. power grid

by Paul Wong and Jacob White

Rising electricity demand and climate change challenges are making it imperative to modernize the U.S. power grid. Top priorities are enhancing the grid’s capacity, bolstering its resilience and fortifying critical components.

Recent U.S. legislative efforts recognize the urgency of modernizing the power grid and enhancing its resilience. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $13 billion for grid modernization. The Inflation Reduction Act guarantees up to $250 billion in loans for projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing energy infrastructure.

Comprehensive upgrades will be needed, including transitioning to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, constructing storage facilities for renewable energy, and expanding and upgrading transmission lines. Additional investments in battery facilities are also crucial for optimizing the efficiency of renewables and improving grid reliability during supply disruptions. All this will require supplies of energy transition metals that go well beyond EV battery demand.

High temperatures, prolonged heat waves, rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather events can disrupt all aspects of the power grid, from power generation to transmission and distribution. The North American Electric Reliability Corp. warns of the elevated risk of energy shortages due to extreme heat events.

Another critical impact of extreme weather on the U.S. grid is the significant increase in air conditioning demand during heat waves. Surges in demand strain the grid’s ability to generate and transmit power, especially during peak hours when energy consumption is already high, resulting in brownouts or power outages.

The transmission infrastructure is the part of the U.S. power grid that most needs upgrading. A modern transmission network is required to accommodate today's electricity consumption and generation patterns, efficiently move power across the grid, integrate renewable energy resources from remote areas, enhance grid resilience, and implement smart grid technologies for real-time data analysis.

Demand response programs and energy-efficient technologies may play a crucial role in building resilience. Incentivizing consumers to adjust electricity usage during high-demand periods can alleviate strain on the grid. Advancements in energy-efficient appliances, homes, buildings and vehicles will contribute to a more sustainable and reliable energy landscape.

Upgrading the U.S. power grid would be a critical step toward mitigating the impact of climate change and ensuring a more secure and sustainable energy future. Through government initiatives and strategic investments in low-carbon energy generation, storage and transmission, the U.S. can fortify its power grid to withstand the challenges of climate change and safeguard its citizens and economy.

Energy storage systems are the newest components in the U.S. power grid, and we believe they have the most growth potential. These technologies — like batteries, pumped hydro storage and other emerging solutions  — play a critical role in supporting the integration of renewable energy sources into the grid. They address the challenges of intermittent generation, which is the primary shortcoming of wind and solar power.

Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power have grown significantly in recent years, and their share in the energy mix is expected to continue to rise. However, renewable energy fluctuates based on weather conditions and time of day. This leads to imbalances between electricity supply and demand, which energy storage systems can help mitigate. Energy storage systems can trap excess energy during periods of high generation and release it when demand exceeds supply. This helps to maintain grid stability and enhance the power grid's resiliency during extreme weather events or emergencies.

Advancements in energy storage technology have led to cost reductions and improved performance, making these systems increasingly attractive for utilities, businesses and consumers. As the technologies evolve, they may likely become more efficient, affordable and widely adopted across various applications, such as grid-scale storage, behind-the-meter systems for businesses and residences, and EV integration.

Energy storage systems are a crucial enabler of clean energy in the push for sustainability and decarbonization. The storage landscape is dynamic and evolving, but battery storage systems have an early lead, given their high energy density, fast response time, long-duration discharge and scalability. Furthermore, they are a known technology with declining costs. Alongside EVs, energy storage systems are a major factor in the rising demand for batteries.


Paul Wong and Jacob White are market strategist and ETF product manager, respectively, at Sprott Asset Management. The full version of this report can be read here.

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