Gridlocked: Institutional Barriers and the Quest to Modernize the US Electrical Grid

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Daniel Esty
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The US electrical grid is in need of modernization in order to continue to serve the basic needs of the American people. On three important metrics, reliability, resiliency, and security, the grid falls short. In order to maintain the grid, the International Energy Agency estimates that over $2 trillion in investment is needed in grid infrastructure by 2035. This paper uses the work of Elinor Ostrom to inform a concept mapping approach to grid failures. Identifying the role, scale, values, and political influence of the grid’s stakeholders reveals divergent goals. A patchwork set of rules and jurisdictions has led to a complex regulatory environment. The conflicting interests of stakeholders and a diverse regulatory environment have created institutional barriers that stand in the way of modernizing the grid. In addition to improved reliability, resiliency, and security, grid modernization offers an opportunity to move towards a decarbonized energy supply. This paper addresses the need for grid modernization and identifies the institutional barriers that are slowing or preventing change.