The Future of the Electric Grid

An Interdisciplinary MIT study

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Regulations only a first step in cutting emissions

Regulations only a first step in cutting emissions

MIT study finds that sectoral regulations will not cut emissions enough to substantially limit climate change, but are a good step toward phasing in a price on carbon.

July 29, 2014Read more

The Grid

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Foreword and Acknowledgments

For well over a century, electricity has made vital contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy and the quality of American life. The U.S. electric grid is a remarkable achievement, linking electric generation units reliably and efficiently to millions of residential, commercial, and industrial users of electricity through more than six million miles of lines and associated equipment that are designed and managed by more than 3,000 organizations, many of which are in turn regulated by both federal and state agencies. While this remarkable system of systems will continue to serve us well, it will face serious challenges in the next two decades that will demand the intelligent use of new technologies and the adoption of more appropriate regulatory policies.

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This report aims to provide a comprehensive, objective portrait of the U.S. electric grid and the challenges and opportunities it is likely to face over the next two decades. It also highlights a number of areas in which policy changes, focused research and demonstration, and the collection and sharing of important data can facilitate meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities that the grid will face.

This study is the sixth in the MIT Energy Initiative's "Future of" series. Its predecessors have shed light on a range of complex and important issues involving energy and the environment. While the previous studies have focused on particular technologies and energy supply, our study of the grid necessarily considers many technologies and multiple overlapping physical and regulatory systems. Because of this breadth, our efforts were focused on integrating and evaluating existing knowledge rather than performing original research and analysis. In addition, this study's predecessors focused on implications of national policies limiting carbon emissions, while we do not make assumptions regarding future carbon policy initiatives. Instead, we mainly consider the implications of a set of ongoing trends and existing policies.

We anticipate this report will be of value to a wide range of decision makers in industry and government as they guide the grid's continuing evolution. We have attempted to provide thorough discussions of key topics to serve as references, to support our findings and recommendations, and to meet the needs of what we expect will be a diverse audience in terms of interest and expertise. Also, for those less familiar with the industry, we include appendices on the grid's history and technology. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the status of the grid, the challenges and opportunities it will face, and our major recommendations. To facilitate selective reading, detailed descriptions of the contents of each section in Chapters 2–9 are provided in each chapter's introduction, and recommendations are collected and briefly discussed in each chapter's final section.

Study Participants

Study Co-Chairs

JOHN G. KASSAKIAN
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
Former Director, MIT Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems

RICHARD SCHMALENSEE
Howard W. Johnson Professor of Economics and Management, MIT
Former John C Head III Dean, MIT Sloan School of Management

Study Management

GARY DESGROSEILLIERS
Executive Director

TIMOTHY D. HEIDEL
Research Director Postdoctoral Associate, MIT Energy Initiative

Study Group

KHURRAM AFRIDI
Associate Professor and Werner-von-Siemens Chair for Power Electronics, Lahore University of Management Sciences, School of Science and Engineering, Pakistan
Visiting Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT

AMRO M. FARID
Assistant Professor of Engineering Systems and Management, Masdar Institute, UAE
Research Affiliate, Technology and Development Program, MIT

JERROLD M. GROCHOW
Research Affiliate, MIT Energy Initiative
Former Vice President for Information Services and Technology, MIT

WILLIAM W. HOGAN
Raymond Plank Professor of Global Energy Policy
Research Director, Harvard Electricity Policy Group, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

HENRY D. JACOBY
William F. Pounds Professor of Management Emeritus, MIT

JAMES L. KIRTLEY
Professor of Electrical Engineering, MIT

HARVEY G. MICHAELS
Research Scientist, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT

IGNACIO PÉREZ-ARRIAGA
Professor of Electrical Engineering Comillas University, Spain
Visiting Professor, Engineering Systems Division, MIT

DAVID J. PERREAULT
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT

NANCY L. ROSE
Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics, MIT

GERALD L. WILSON
Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering Emeritus, MIT
Former Dean, MIT School of Engineering

Student Research Assistants

NABI ABUDALDAH
Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Visiting Student, MIT

MINJIE CHEN
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT

PEARL E. DONOHOO
Engineering Systems Division, MIT

SAMANTHA J. GUNTER
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT

P. JORDAN KWOK
Engineering Systems Division, MIT

VIVEK A. SAKHRANI
Engineering Systems Division, MIT

JIANKANG WANG
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT

ANDREW WHITAKER
Engineering Systems Division, MIT

XIANG LING YAP
Harvard University Engineering Systems Division, MIT

RICHARD Y. ZHANG
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT

Advisory Committee Members

J. BENNETT JOHNSTON — CHAIR
United States Senate (Retired)

GEORGE ARNOLD
National Institute of Standards and Technology

LISA M. BARTON
American Electric Power

TROY BATTERBERRY AND ELIZABETH GROSSMAN
Microsoft Corporation

WILLIAM W. BERRY
Dominion Resources (Retired)

CLARK GELLINGS
Electric Power Research Institute

ROBERT GILLIGAN AND LARRY SOLLECITO
General Electric Company

LAURA IPSEN AND PAUL DE MARTINI
Cisco Systems

PAUL JOSKOW
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

ELIZABETH ANNE MOLER
Former Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

STEVEN NAUMANN
Exelon Corporation

PEDRO PIZARRO AND DAVID MEAD
Southern California Edison

CLAES RYTOFT
ABB Group

MIGUEL ÁNGEL SÁNCHEZ FORNIÉ
Iberdrola S.A.

BASEM SARANDAH
Nexant, Inc.

J. CHARLES SMITH
Utility Wind Integration Group

SUSAN TIERNEY
Analysis Group

GORDON VAN WELIE ISO
New England

STEPHEN G. WHITLEY
New York ISO