When America’s electrical grid was created 80 years ago, it was designed to transmit power from large conventional power plants built near major cities. The grid we need today is very different in at least two major ways. First, clean energy like wind and solar power often has to travel long distances out to cities, homes, and businesses. Second, "demand-side resources"—like rooftop solar panels, combined heat and power, energy efficiency, and dynamic customer response—are making our grid cleaner and more resilient, as well as decreasing the need for some investment in new transmission lines and power plants. As we move further into the 21st century, the nation’s power grid is becoming more dynamic, efficient, and responsive to customer choice. And the rules that govern our transmission grid need to continue to evolve to accommodate these newer, cleaner sources of energy.
NRDC is helping ensure that the nation’s power grid delivers clean, reliable, low-carbon energy across the country. Nearly all federal and state policies affecting clean-electricity production and use—from energy-efficiency incentives to carbon-pollution rules for power plants to renewable energy standards—impact the grid.
So far, the grid has successfully integrated more than 75,000 megawatts of zero-carbon wind and solar power into our energy supply without disruption, and much higher levels are possible. It is accommodating millions of customers who want more control over their energy use, including those who want to produce it themselves. Yet many people who oppose cutting carbon pollution from power plants—the leading source of carbon pollution in the United States—predict that our grid simply can’t handle the change.
In truth, change already is occurring, and NRDC is working to accelerate it. We are promoting the value of our power grid’s existing tools and policies to help clean up our nation’s power sector while preserving and even enhancing grid reliability and resiliency. We are rebutting baseless claims that a cleaner grid puts reliability at risk, and we are promoting new tools and policies to improve the grid throughout all regions. But inaction, or choosing the wrong policies, will slow progress and frustrate state and national clean energy commitments.
The rules of the federal agency that governs the grid, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), can either facilitate or obstruct these policies. That’s why we launched the Sustainable FERC Project with several environmental and energy groups. By focusing on making grid rules for renewable energy, energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and other clean resources, we can facilitate a better transmission grid—and a cleaner energy system nationwide.
Through this project, we push for the most efficient use of existing transmission lines and try to create market opportunities for energy efficiency, distributed generation, demand response, and other demand-side resources, all while maintaining grid reliability and avoiding unfair costs. We have worked with FERC representatives, major transmission grid operators, and other stakeholders to help shape several FERC rules that incorporate clean energy goals into transmission planning, wholesale energy markets, and electric-grid operations.
We propose new rules and solutions at FERC and in grid regions around the country, speak at FERC and industry conferences, and provide expert testify on Capitol Hill. We demystify the grid’s operation and call foul on those who inaccurately claim that the grid can’t handle more clean energy.
The facts are on our side; power grid operators and planners already have the systems in place to maintain reliability. They are maintaining and continuously strengthening grid reliability as our nation significantly expands use of clean energy resources. Our clear message: Keep calm, plan ahead, and the lights will stay on.