Beyond the Grid: FERC’s Vision for a Robust Transmission Network

Athena Intelligence
4 min readMay 21, 2024

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) now requires transmission companies to look forward 20 years in their planning. FERC Order 1920 is a federal response to a long-standing issue: Grid operators have historically been reactive, addressing reliability problems only after they arise.

The big picture? The US is unprepared for the increase in demand for electricity stemming from the rebuilding of industrial infrastructure, increased technology usage, and the growing reliance on newer sources like wind and solar power. For context, electricity accounts for 20% of all energy consumed.

This chart illustrates total global energy consumption, where electricity constitutes only one-fifth of the total, with a rapid growth rate. Unlike internal combustion engines and machinery, electricity demands more materials for power and is inherently more complex, even before factoring in solar and wind turbines.

Back in the early 1990’s, 1 cellphone used as much electricity as a typical American refrigerator, if you accounted for the prorated share of cell towers and other infrastructure.

Random factoids from PMIG’s report on investing in the industry:

1) Data Centers today, globally, consume 2% of all electricity. That’s about the same as the country of France.

2) Artificial Intelligence and crypto data mining are demonstrating a hunger for electricity that seems unsatiable. Estimates are that by 2026 the electric consumed by these two areas of technology is going to equal the electrical use by all of Japan today.

For the US, the aim is to transfer electricity from regions efficiently producing wind and solar power to urban areas. FERC’s new rules compel utilities and grid operators to explore new technologies for enhancing transmission and storage capacity.

While there has been much news (see New Rules to Overhaul Electric Grids Could Boost Wind and Solar Power from NYTimes), not everyone is happy with the new rule. “NARUC [The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners] is still digesting FERC Order 1920 and evaluating our options, but we are generally disappointed by the significantly diminished state role envisioned by the FERC order with respect to transmission planning and cost allocation,” said NARUC Executive Director Greg R. White. (See this article from Power Grid International State utility commissions are not happy with FERC’s new transmission rules)

For more context on the resiliency of the transmission grid on a national level, and how the incremental increases from each small renewable electrical source increases both the complexity and the resilience, here are Peter Zeihan’s thoughts on the resilience of the American transmission grid to shocks and hackers.

Finally, a reminder that when taking a larger view of electrical generation, globally renewables are still a small part of the total electrical sourcing, with a chart from Robert Bryce.

Robert Bryce — Energy, Power, Innovation and Politics on Substack

In light of recent wildfires, Athena hopes that grid operators incorporate an evaluation of wildfire risk, considering factors such as land’s susceptibility to catastrophic wildfires, into their expansion planning. The fusion of terrain risk and ignition risk from utility assets could render FERC’s aspirations for increased transmission capacity a fleeting illusion if grid operators fail to account for the harsher realities of climate change.

Athena’s clients are proactively tackling wildfire risk by leveraging the Voice of the Acre to assess mitigation options and schedule equipment maintenance. We are aiding utilities in enhancing operational efficiency.

The best way to fight wildfires is reduce them before the wildfire begins.

There is a direct correlation between economic vitality and electrical power. Most Americans take access to electricity for granted, but demand is rising faster than the growth of capacity of our transmission infrastructure over the last decade.

As the grid grows, incorporates new sources and evolves to meet the demands of new industrial sectors, utilities are also confronting a changing risk scape. Natural disasters (megafires, floods, weather extremes, etc.) are increasing and now are a larger part of utility planning. Athena is working with electric generators, transmitters and distributors in multiple states to improve resilience.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk. (athenaintel.io)

Clients include communities, power companies, insurance and financial services — with Athena’s geospatial intelligence incorporated into wildfire mitigation plans (WMP) and public safety power shutoffs, Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP), property underwriting and portfolio risk optimization.

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Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (Info@Project-Athena.com), or visit www.athenaintel.io