April 21, 2015

The Quadrennial Energy Review

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April 21, 2015 | U.S. Department of Energy

Today the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House released the first installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER). It’s more than a great Scrabble word: It’s a comprehensive analysis of what it will take to keep our country’s energy infrastructure running smoothly as our energy economy rapidly changes. Why is this a big deal? As the press release from the White House notes, “the last national energy policy report was published nearly 14 years ago.”

The report – the full document is a whopping 348 pages, but there is also a 10-page fact sheet from the White House and a 34-page summary for policymakers – covers our nation’s transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure. That is, how we move oil, natural gas, electricity, and other forms of energy across our country through our vast network of pipelines and power lines.

With the growth of solar, wind and natural gas, it’s clear that we aren’t living in the same energy economy we were 10 or 15 years ago. And, as the White House press release notes,

Responding to these trends and issues, as well as supporting a 21st century economy, will require that we address the growing vulnerabilities posed by climate change, the evolving energy mix, cyber and physical threats, growing interdependencies, aging infrastructure, and workforce needs.

To unveil the QER, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren spoke from Philadelphia. You can listen to audio of the event here.

Stay tuned because this is just the first installment of the QER; the second installment is due next year.

Here are some highlights from the QER that caught Inside Energy’s attention:

  1. In conjunction with the release of the QER, the White House also announced two executive actions to address the resiliency of the electric grid:
  • DOE will convene leaders from utility and power companies such as Xcel, Tennessee Valley Authority and Pacific Gas and Electric to discuss plans for girding the grid for the threats posed by climate change and extreme weather events.
  • USDA will spend $72 million on projects bringing solar energy to rural areas through smart grid and transmission line projects.
  1. The QER focuses on updating aging infrastructure – pipelines and the grid – a task that will take billions of dollars

The QER recommends funding programs to update the natural gas pipeline system and modernize the grid, among other things. Why? Our energy infrastructure is held up by aging systems: Our pipeline network, which moves oil and gas, and our transmission network, which transports electricity, are decades old, and their age presents a risk.

For a primer on pipelines, check out Inside Energy’s series of stories, including an animated map that demonstrates how nearly half of our pipelines are more than 50 years old.

To brush up on the grid, catch Stephanie Joyce’s exploration of how blackouts get fixed, Jordan Wirfs-Brock’s graphs of grid reliability metrics, or our database of bulk power system disruptions.

  1. The QER looks at energy as an integrated system – which requires thinking across industries and across borders

Our energy economy doesn’t operate in a vacuum. The QER recommends thinking about our energy economy as a North American one, and includes strategies to further integrate U.S. grid and pipeline infrastructure with those of Canada and Mexico.

When natural resources move – often across state and international borders – they generally travel via many forms of transportation. For example, oil often travels via rail, pipeline, and even boat on it’s journey from well to refinery. The QER recommends a competitive grant system to specifically support this type of multi-modal, cross-system transportation.

  1. Data, information and communication will play a critical role in updating our energy infrastructure

It’s not just our physical infrastructure that’s due for an upgrade: Our information infrastructure also needs an overhaul. The QER included recommendations for improving the accessibility of data on rail shipments of energy commodities, like crude oil; developing grid operating and communication standards; and enhancing energy data sharing between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.