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Addressing Catastrophic Threats to the US Electric Grid

Boulder, CO – July 16, 2020.
Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Program has released a report assessing the current approaches to grid resilience in the United States and providing recommendations for policymakers, regulators, and industry participants.

Historical approaches to ensuring grid security in the United States are proving to be poorly suited to the emerging, catastrophic threats facing the grid. They are also incongruous with the ongoing technological transition that is rapidly reshaping the electric power industry as we know it. But by embracing the present era of energy transition as an opportunity, not a threat, the report lays out unique and timely strategies to reimagine and improve the resilience of the US electric grid.

“At their current pace of capital investment, electric utilities will probably invest approximately $1 trillion in the US power grid between 2020 and 2030,” notes Mark Dyson, a principal in Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Practice and lead author of the report. “Given the magnitude of long-lived assets under consideration, there is a societal, economic, and national security imperative to invest in our grid in a way that promotes resilience by design, economically and from the bottom up, and not as a cost-adding afterthought years later. Our research suggests that the ongoing shifts in the utility industry do not present a threat to grid security, but rather an extraordinary opportunity to reimagine grid resilience.”

Even as the threat environment evolves and high-impact risks become both higher-impact and higher-probability, the technological underpinnings of the US grid are also changing faster than ever. Current approaches to resilience, focused on hardening individual components of the centralized 20th century grid, are forced to adapt to the rapidly decentralizing technology mix that characterizes the grid’s 21st century evolution.

Instead of continued prioritization of 20th century resilience approaches, our report lays out an opportunity to reimagine the fundamental approach to grid resilience, beginning with four principles:

  • Address, don’t ignore, linear dependence. Current resilience approaches focus on reinforcing single elements of the grid value chain; emerging opportunities that leverage DERs address multiple failure modes with single investments.
  • Leverage the market, don’t fight it. Common resilience interventions tend to lag the cost-effective opportunities presented by emerging technologies; tailored solutions can take advantage of market forces to lower the cost and improve the efficacy of resilience strategies.
  • Prioritize critical loads. Typical approaches to energy resilience take an all-or-nothing approach to maintaining or restoring grid services; new tools can enable utilities to ensure that the highest-value, most critical electricity services are kept online or restored the fastest during contingencies.
  • Maximize economic value from resilience investments. Most current approaches to grid resilience serve only as insurance and provide no value outside of contingency events. In contrast, emerging solutions leveraging renewable and distributed energy can provide economic value during normal operations, in addition to mitigating the impact of outages.

The principles laid out here can serve as guideposts for investors, regulators, policymakers, and other stakeholders as they mobilize capital to reimagine the power grid in response to both emerging catastrophic threats and the market-winning technologies of this decade and beyond.

To Download Reimagining Grid Resilience, please go to:

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Notes to Editors

About Rocky Mountain Institute
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Rocky Mountain Institute published India Leaps Ahead: Transformative Mobility Solutions for All with NITI Aayog in May 2017, and works with central government agencies like NITI Aayog, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Department of Heavy Industries to support India’s transition to clean, shared, and connected mobility. More information on RMI can be found at or follow us on Twitter @RockyMtnInst.