Legislative Updates

House Hearing Examines the Digital Electric Grid


On 15 February, the Energy Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing focused on the challenges and opportunities associated with modernizing energy and electricity delivery systems in the United States. Although much of the hearing focused on oil and gas pipelines and the Dakota Access pipeline controversy, the first panel of witnesses focused on modernization of the nation’s electric grid and the implications of digital technology for improving efficiency, cost, reliability and security.

Excerpted highlights from witnesses and submitted hearing statements are provided below.

Rep. Greg Walden, Chair, Subcommittee on Energy, House Committee on Energy and Commerce

“The U.S. electrical grid is one the engineering marvels of modern history. But it is aging and under stress. The vast network that arose to deliver seamless uninterruptable power into our homes, schools and hospitals in a centralized and standardized fashion is being tested and challenged by the intersection of digital technology and innovation. As technology continues to change the way we go about our daily lives, we also have to rethink how we generate, deliver and consume electricity. This could provide opportunities for consumers, both large and small to save money and be more competitive. However, these opportunities do not come without their own set of challenges. We must strike a delicate balance of maintaining the reliability and security of the grid and ensuring ample power generation, regardless of the fuel source. We must ensure that the grid works in ways that optimize and build upon integrating new technologies with existing grid infrastructure, and siting new infrastructure when needed.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Energy, House Committee on Energy and Commerce

“We need new and revitalized infrastructure to deliver energy, industrial feedstocks, and information safely, reliably, and efficiently. And it’s going to take a substantial investment to realize this goal. This can’t just become a package of deregulatory measures, tax giveaways to corporations and fake investments through “private-public partnerships.’ We need new hardware, new software and new thinking “work that can and should be done in America by American workers for the benefit of all the American people.”


Ganesh Bell, Chief Digital Officer, GE Power & GE Digital

“It is our belief that the digitalization of the electricity industry and the creation of an Electricity Value Network will be similarly valuable (to the work done by Amazon, Apple and Uber in connecting consumer supply and demand).”

“By applying digital to individual connected assets ” a boiler in a coal plant, a wind turbine, or a grid substation ” we can reduce downtime, elevate productivity and output, and ” in the case of traditional fuels ” reduce emissions.”

“By connecting entire fleets of assets, we will be able to dramatically enhance our ability to forecast supply, to dynamically increase or decrease supply in response to fluctuations in demand or resource variability, and to optimize overall production for a host of factors ” from profitability to emissions and fuel consumption.”

“By connecting the workers and the processes by which the electricity industry is operated and maintained, we can catch potential outages earlier, address them faster, improve the safety of operations, and dramatically reduce the cost of operations. By connecting every customer, generator, grid operator, battery, building, HVAC system, light fixture, and transportation mode ” every possible node of the electricity value network’s infrastructure ” entirely new business models will emerge that can underpin the development of smarter cities and stronger and healthier economies. The electrification of building energy management and of transportation systems to reduce emissions and energy consumption are two excellent examples. In the State of New York, transportation accounts for 34% of the State’s emissions and $26.7 billion in fuel costs. New York’s buildings consume roughly 60% of its total energy. An Electricity Value Network could play a significant role in reducing emissions and energy consumption through electrification.”

Rex Ferry, National Electric Contractors Association


“The recent Executive Order (EO) Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects is another positive move forward. It is our experience that many projects are held up due to an unnecessarily complicated and protracted approval process. Time truly is money. Analysis by the nonpartisan reform group Common Good found that delays in regulatory approval for U.S infrastructure projects cost our nation $3.7 trillion, which is more than twice the cost of fixing them. In America, the problem is not any one individual regulation. It’s the accumulation of decades of state, local and federal regulations that are often contradictory, redundant or outdated. To accelerate the construction of important infrastructure, the federal government should designate officials to streamline the regulatory process for energy infrastructure projects. Funding for infrastructure is scarce and we cannot afford to waste critical resources on unjustifiable red tape.”

Steven Hauser, CEO, GRIDWISE Alliance

“One key point I want to leave with you today is that, because the electric system is critical infrastructure, and because this infrastructure is in desperate need of being modernized, GridWise believes that any infrastructure package must include the electric system and, as part of this, must address grid modernization or “smart grid.” The modernized grid or “smart grid” refers to the need for integrating a myriad of distributed resources requiring the two-way flow of 3 power, an increase in sensors, resulting in a significant increase in information, and communications to facilitate management and optimization of the grid.”

To elaborate, we need to:

  • Foster ongoing public-private collaboration, which is essential to facilitating this transformation; for example, utilities, technology companies, and other stakeholders already are partnering with DOE-OE and/or with National Laboratories to help determine and simulate potential threats to the electric system, and demonstrate technologies and capabilities that improve situational awareness, and reduce major outages;
  • Relatedly, test, measure, and verify the benefits and costs of emerging technologies as well as the associated business models, regulatory models, rate design structures, and more through demonstrations and pilot programs;
  • Maximize transparency and educate and empower consumers so they can better manage their electricity consumption, especially as they become both producers and consumers of electricity, or “prosumers”;
  • Establish a shared vision of where we want to go in terms of achieving a twenty-first century grid infrastructure and the steps we will take to achieve this vision (like “putting a man on the moon.”);
  • Facilitate work underway at DOE and the National Laboratories on a grid architecture, so we have a platform that enables all of the distributed resources and other changes to the grid, while maintaining system reliability and security;
  • Conduct scenario modeling and analysis to test concepts and their validity before deploying projects at scale; and, create performance metrics to measure and evaluate whether various grid modernization goals actually are being achieved; and,
  • Develop guidance for states and leverage best practices in a way that offers tools for states to undergo the transition to a twenty-first century electricity system.”

Dr. Michael Howard, President and CEO, Electric Power Research Institute

“Along with these rising demands and expectations, the technological capabilities for energy supply and environmental protection are changing quickly”¦.By 2016, more than 50% of U.S. residential electricity customers were equipped with smart meters. The European Union expects more than 70% of customers to have smart meters by 2020,5 and deployment is proceeding rapidly in Latin America and Asia. Power plants and transmission and distribution assets are being retrofitted with sensors to operate more efficiently and in ways that allow much more precise environmental control. Markets – still nascent in much of the world – are creating price signals that reward better and more integrated operations. Ongoing deployment of smart devices prompts some to project that within a decade or so essentially every grid-connected device will have its own internet address – from light bulbs to the many components of electric vehicles and nuclear power plants. Natural gas and water systems also are digitizing, although at a pace generally slower than the electric sector. Intelligent sensors, automation, and real-time data offer more information, choices, and control to customers and provide new ways to optimize energy systems. They also raise customer expectations -prominent among them the demand for much more reliable supplies of electric power needed to power digital systems.”

Marc Moriel, President and CEO, National Urban League

“As Congress and the Administration begin to grapple with comprehensive investments in our nation’s infrastructure and the needs of our energy and electricity delivery systems, in order for such investments to be fair and inclusive, they must include the following provisions clearly written into any legislative proposal:”

  1. Specific provisions that ensure and commit to the inclusion of and meaningful participation by MINORITY BUSINESS ENTERPRISES (MBEs).”
  2. A specific commitment to fund JOB TRAINING and WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT as a central and essential part of any plan.”

Paul Cicio, President, Industrial Energy Consumers of America

“Congress and the Administration should not place electric transmission infrastructure projects as a high priority. The majority of the electric transmission projects are not needed and needlessly increase the cost of electricity to all consumers and can result in the shutdown or the idling of electric generating capacity of existing natural gas, coal or nuclear facilities. All of which are generating assets that we consumers are paying for in our electric rates. Transmission is the fastest growing cost portion of our electricity bill.”

Michael Skelly, Clean Line Energy Partners

“..new electrical infrastructure is incredibly challenging to build in the U.S. Still, new electric transmission projects are critical for both U.S. energy security and for U.S. competitiveness”.America is “Johnny-come-lately’ to the world of HVDC infrastructure.”

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button