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Granger Morgan, professor of engineering and public policy and electrical and computer engineering, chaired a briefing by a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) committee as they delivered a congressional briefing on “The Future of Electric Power in the U.S.,” followed by a public webinar. The committee also included William Sanders, dean of the College of Engineering.

Many vital services and utilities in the U.S. are dependent on electrical power. Current events, such as the crisis in Texas, have shown the disastrous effects of prolonged mass power disruptions; however, the challenges to the future of our electric grid go well beyond this most recent example.

The committee was brought together by NASEM in response to a Department of Energy (DOE) request to evaluate the medium- and long-term evolution of the electric grid. In particular, the committee was asked to consider:

  • Technologies – for generation, storage, power electronics, sensing and measuring, controls systems, cyber security, and loads
  • Planning and operations – evolution of current practices in response to changing generation, technologies, and end use
  • Business models – cost and benefits to modernization; potential changes to oversight and market operations
  • Grid architectures – technical and jurisdictional challenges to implementation

Morgan and Sanders were both members of the previous NASEM committee on enhancing the resilience of the U.S. electricity system. They provided recommendations, underscored in this newest brief, to assess and prepare against “plausible large-area, long-duration grid disruptions that could have major economic, social, and other adverse consequences.”

Granger Morgan

Source: College of Engineering

Granger Morgan, chair of the NASEM committee

The committee’s final report was informed by workshops on cybersecurity and planning models, as well as numerous briefing and webinars. Morgan, who chaired the study, and his fellow authors lay out likely ways in which the U.S. power grid may evolve. They emphasize safe and secure operations as the core priority in grid evolution, and note the need to balance additional considerations for affordability and equity, sustainability and clean power, and reliability and resistance.

They’ve also created 40 recommendations to Congress, DOE, state entities, and other federal and private institutions operating within or around the energy sector. This list of suggestions offers the most informed perspective for how the U.S. may continue providing safe and secure power and avert future crises, with particular consideration toward the social, economic, and environmental impact of the decisions being made. 

“Electric power is essential to the welfare of all Americans, and is increasingly dependent on other infrastructures,” said Morgan, leading into the webinar. “…We can identify drivers of future change, but how they’re going to manifest is uncertain and it will be different in different parts of the country. An environment that promotes technical, economic, and regulatory innovation is essential to ensuring that our future electricity system serves America’s needs and that the U.S. positions itself as an international leader.”

During the webinar, other members of the panel lent their expert outlook, touching on topics such as systems architectures, equitable accessibility, resiliency and redundancy, research and development, and more.

Sanders discussed future grid development from a cybersecurity perspective. “The power system is becoming increasingly vulnerable to both physical and cyber disruptions,” Sanders said, “It’s inherent complexity demands a system-centric rather than a component-centric approach to cybersecurity and cyber resiliency.”

The webinar was recorded via Zoom and will be available on the NASEM website.