National security starts with keeping the lights on

July 18, 2022 3:20 am

American Electric Power headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Getty Images.

Each time our nation suffers a blackout, it is another reminder that our national security is at risk. As temperatures soared and more than 230,000 folks in Columbus went without electricity last month, we were reminded yet again that we must act quickly to upgrade our antiquated energy and grid system.

Climate-fueled disasters are now the norm, not an aberration. This week’s outage was caused by record breaking temperatures exacerbated by climate change that led to a huge increase in demand for electricity. Unfortunately, when a utility can’t meet demand, it has to shut down the grid, and that’s just what happened. Our electric power systems, while once the pinnacle of American innovation, were built with on 20th Century technology in a 20th Century climate. But we are well into the 21st Century and our national electrical grid must meet and exceed the demands of the modern world.

We have been remiss in investing in necessary grid updates that could have made blackouts like this one a thing of the past – modernizations that would not only protect consumers’ health and well-being but also their safety and security.

The U.S. military depends on reliable power to achieve its missions at home and abroad. When the power goes out, it can lead to cascading failures of critical infrastructure, potentially affecting our ability to direct air traffic, provide clean water, and make banking transactions. Nearly every aspect of American life is linked to secure power.

With increasingly intense and more frequent extreme weather events, we need to make our power systems more resilient and adaptable. Doing so is no small undertaking; modernizing our grid requires collaboration between energy companies, governments, regulators and other key players. While scientists have warned us for decades about the impacts of a changing climate, we need to build a business case for overhauling how we produce and distribute energy.

The type of power matters too. If history is to serve as a guide, renewable power remains top in class in reliability. For example, after the Texas blackouts in 2021, coal, gas and nuclear generators lost nearly twice as much generating power as Texas’ renewable energy power sources.

In addition, renewable energy is critical to energy independence, especially noticeable right now as the war in Ukraine has raised energy prices both here at home and globally.

A recent study from Stanford University found that even a grid powered by 100% clean, renewable energy would be able to maintain grid stability across six grid regions in the United States. By 2050, a clean energy grid would also save 53,200 lives, by preventing air-pollution-related deaths, and prevent millions more illnesses per year.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law late last year by President Biden gives us a head start on rebuilding our grid, and soon across the country you’ll begin to see American workers making these upgrades. The time is now for the federal government, states, and regional transmission operators to work together to update our aging grid and make those dollars work for us all.

By modernizing the grid and rapidly transitioning to clean energy, America will have a stronger national security posture and a safer homeland.

Admiral Dennis McGinn, ret., served as U.S. assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.

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Dennis McGinn
Dennis McGinn

Admiral Dennis McGinn, ret., served as U.S. assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.