Protect the Grid, Secure the Nation

By Zolaikha Strong, Director of Sustainable Energy

This article originally appeared on (December 2015)

When the White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its final Clean Power Plan (CPP) in August, it was a historic and important step toward reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The CPP requires states to comply with new regulations to reduce CO2 emissions, and provides incentives for states to install renewable energy systems.

The plan cites climate change as a significant threat to the nation’s health and well-being that can, in part, be diminished by cutting pollution through sustainable practices such as renewable energy and efficiency initiatives on the electrical grid. 

As director of the Copper Development Association’s sustainable energy program, I believe the transition to renewable energy is essential to creating a better planet today and for future generations. Additionally, renewable energy plays an important role in ensuring that the electric grid remains safe and secure.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently stated that cyber attacks are becoming the primary threat facing the country. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security responded to 198 cyber incidents in 2012; 41 percent of them involved energy infrastructure.

Many Americans are growing increasingly wary of cyber attacks because of widely publicized security breaches at companies like Target, Home Depot, Sony and even at federal agencies and military branches. It is easier to see these attacks as an urgent issue compared with climate change. These two threats may not seem related, but a closer look shows us that both climate change and cyber warfare are a danger to our energy supply. They also share the same solution: green energy and copper.

Modernizing and creating a clean, low-carbon grid is necessary to increasing protection of the grid against cyber threats. Installation of energy efficient technology, including smart grid systems, allow the intercommunication between grid operators and the system. This increases the efficiency and resiliency of the grid because grid operators gain access to data and can maintain it by increasing the role of rooftop solar panels, electric vehicles, appliances and other distributed (on-site) power generation.

Higher grid efficiencies will reduce the need to keep marginal fossil-fueled generation online, and offer more ways to take advantage of clean, cheap renewable power like wind and solar.

Military Adoption

The necessity to protect the grid is evident in the Pentagon’s increased investment in renewable energy technology as a way to create a protected source of electricity. Solar and wind installations are cropping up around the country near military bases as defense officials sign large contracts with local utilities. By the end of 2016, 136,000 new solar panels will be installed on the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay, Georgia. This is the fourth solar project announced for military bases in Georgia. Combined, these installations will generate 120 megawatts of solar power that can provide a supplementary power supply if the grid is jeopardized. If the power goes out, energy storage systems and batteries that stockpile renewable power will be vital.

Because of its natural properties including high conductivity, sustainability and durability, copper continues to be an essential part of the electrical grid. Its ability to create high-quality, low-resistant connections for high-efficiency equipment makes copper indispensable to renewable energy as well. By ensuring the nation’s electrical supply uses copper, everything from transformers and cabling to solar panels and wind turbines will be more dependable and durable. This will aid in protecting our nation’s energy supply.

Take transformers as an example. Virtually all electric power in the United States runs through at least one transformer before it is consumed. High-efficiency copper-wound units have been shown to be more reliable and more efficient than transformers using other materials. Transformers with significantly more copper have lower energy losses and lower lifecycle costs. Taking advantage of copper’s natural properties has the potential to positively impact all electrical supply.

Transformers, generators, motors and wiring rely on copper for efficient, durable operation. So, too, do the solar panels, wind turbines and energy storage systems incentivized by new renewable energy regulations like the CPP.

As threats to the nation’s energy grid continue to increase, it is up to regulators and the federal government to invest in renewable technology and energy efficient systems, and to make sure these electrical sources are reliable and secure by using copper, the world’s most conductive and recyclable metal. Copper and sustainable energy are irreplaceable elements of U.S. energy security.