Fix the Grid, Now!

In the final months of his initial tenure, President Biden is turning his focus on tackling one of America’s thorniest energy challenges: building a bigger, better, cleaner power grid.

In April, the White House passed a new rule simplifying permitting requirements for building power lines. A few weeks later, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission followed suit by further streamlining the process. And on May 28, 21 U.S. Governors signed on to the Modern Grid Deployment Initiative, which aims to bring states, federal agencies, and the power sector together to expand electricity transmission.

These initiatives—and many more like them—will be critical to addressing a major roadblock holding back climate progress: the backlog of renewable energy waiting to be connected to the grid.

The U.S. is projected to build more electric generation capacity this year than any time in the past two decades—and a whopping 96% of it will be renewable. However, because of our outdated, underdeveloped grid, most of that power has nowhere to go. As a result, nearly 1,500 GW of solar and wind capacity are languishing in limbo, creating a massive bottleneck for the national energy transition.

So, how do we fix our grid and bring all this clean energy online?

  • Upgrade existing power lines The first line of defense is to replace old, inefficient power lines with new, lightweight, high-capacity carbon fiber cables—a process known as “reconductoring”. These cables can transmit 2–3 times as much power as standard wires. They also sag less, decreasing risk of wildfires and other accidents. And most importantly, upgrading old power lines is far easier and cheaper than building new ones.
  • Build out an interconnected interstate grid  While upgrading current infrastructure is a big piece of the puzzle, it’s not the whole solution. Certain regions have more capacity for renewables than others, so creating a carbon-free national grid will mean transmitting large amounts of power across the state lines. And to do that, we need to build new power lines—a process notoriously bogged down by red tape. While recent federal and state efforts have made progress on so-called “permitting reform”, we still have a long way to go to allow new power lines to be built with speed and scale.

Fixing the grid is a monumental and multifaceted challenge—one that won’t be solved overnight. But every bit of incremental progress brings us one step closer to the modern, interconnected energy system we need. And thanks to the Biden Administration’s recent efforts, the momentum is finally building.

Let’s keep that momentum going.