Remaking Our Power Grid

Hurricane Sandy shed light on the vulnerability of our region’s infrastructure systems, including power generation, transmission, distribution and storage. After the storm, rescue and recovery teams worked to restore power and heat to more than 8.5 million customers across the region. Still, some areas of New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island experienced prolonged power outages. Many generation facilities and transmission pipelines were shut down or operated at reduced capacity for weeks. With little storage capacity and only a small number of fuel sources, New York and New Jersey instituted gasoline rationing until supplies returned to normal levels.

Hurricane Sandy was a pivot point for our region. Well before the storm, we knew that we needed to modernize our energy infrastructure to meet growing demand while reducing carbon emissions to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate. The region has in place aggressive emissions targets and pioneers some of the most innovative programs for alternative infrastructure financing, land use and building specifications and guidelines. But Hurricane Sandy illustrated that we need an energy infrastructure that is reliable, efficient, affordable and resilient to external shocks, such as extreme weather events.

At RPA’s annual Assembly on April 19, energy, government and environmental experts will debate these issues at a panel discussion on the power grid. (To learn more and to register, please visit: .)

What’s clear is that to insure that our energy infrastructure can meet these challenges, we will need to make some changes.

Expand our generation capacity. We will need more power generation facilities to meet growing demand for power. Adding new power plants can be costly for utilities, consumers and our environment. An alternative to the existing approach is distributed generation, which sites small-scale electric generation facilities throughout the utility network or at the site where the power is consumed. This can add new generation capacity in a way that minimizes damaging environmental effects.

Diversify our fuel sources. Much of our fuel comes from coal and natural gas. Capitalizing on offshore wind, solar and other renewable power sources available in our region will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, lower our carbon emissions, stabilize or reduce energy costs for consumers and create a system that is more resilient to external shocks such as natural disasters and geopolitical conflict.

Build more transmission lines to connect power to places that need it. Bottlenecks in transmission lines aren’t uncommon, and we will require more transmission capacity to meet energy demands. Recent regulatory changes at the federal level ( will open the grid to more competitive development of transmission lines. This will help bring renewables to market while adding redundancy in the transmission system; together, these will improve overall grid reliability and resilience.

Become more efficient in our use of energy. Utilities, public authorities and green building programs have made great strides to enable and incentivize energy efficiency over the past decade. But to meet demand now and in the future, we will need to do more. Advances in demand-response technology, distribution and transmission will help meet this goal. Improving energy efficiency will reduce peak demand, lower carbon emissions, support energy affordability and enhance overall reliability of the grid.

Today’s investments will lay the foundation for a power system that is both resilient and affordable.. The energy grid is a largely invisible but crucial foundation to our region’s $1.3 trillion economy. These changes won’t happen overnight, but will require sustained effort on behalf of many parties who own, operate, regulate and use the grid.