The United States Power Grid

Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional CommissionOrganizations (RSOs)

With the rise of renewable energy and the need to reduce emissions, concerns have been raised regarding the aging and underfunded US energy grid to meet current and future demands. So, what does the current energy grid look like, and how can it be adapted to meet future needs?

The United States energy grid is more or less centralized. It is composed of three main regional grids – The eastern and western interconnections, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The Rocky Mountains are the main delineation line for east and west, while ERCOT covers the majority of the state. The three regions of the energy grid operate generally independently, with a limited power transfer between them. To meet future energy demands in a rapidly changing climate, a more decentralized grid could be beneficial as would more interconnectedness.

The energy grid system in the United States began 120 years ago in Manhattan, New York by Thomas Edison and the grid saw several expansions throughout the 1900s. Early expansion incorporated 43 states. In the 1930s, upgrades improved the grid, such as planning for unexpected failure, economics, and reserve sharing. In the mid-1960s the system was further transformed into what we know today. The status of the United States energy grid is both in need of repair and infrastructure funding. Recent programs and projects have begun addressing the need for high-capacity transmission lines, important for renewable energy and electric vehicle charging.

In recent years, the necessity to upgrade the grid has become more apparent with the increase in renewable energy and electric vehicles. According to a recent Princeton study, an estimated $2 trillion will be required for necessary upgrades to the antiquated grid. This is considering that annual spending from 2012 to 2017 grew from $15.6 billion to $21.9 billion. This gap in spending is only exacerbated by increasingly severe weather in our changing climate. From 2014 – 2018, severe weather was responsible for 92% of all outages. In early 2021, ERCOT saw massive outages that contributed to severe winter storms.  The Engineers’ Annual assessment of America’s Infrastructure and energy was given the grade of C-, which mostly contributed to funding gaps. Not great but considering previous to 2017, the grade was a consistent D there has been a slight improvement. In 2022, the Biden administration announced a $10.5 billion Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnership Program designed to enhance the reliability and resilience of the electric grid.

While regulation is largely the federal government’s responsibility, several important entities are involved in running America’s electric grid. Independent system operators (ISOs) and regional commission organizations (RTOs) monitor the system loads and voltage profiles, while the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) develops and enforces reliability standards, monitors bulk power, and future adequacy, and conducts audits.

The energy industry accounts for 25% of total emissions. Emission factors are composed of three compounds; carbon dioxide (CO2), Sulfur dioxide (SO2), and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Since 2015, carbon emissions from the energy sector have decreased by 17%, the largest decrease being 11% in 2020. Improving the efficiency of the grid would further decrease emissions as more than 60% is lost to conversion.

There are several ways in which to improve the grid both in efficiency and effectiveness. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE), aggressive energy efficiency could reduce carbon emissions by 57% by 2050. Continuing development of renewable energy projects, micro-grids, storage, advanced metering, and supported public policy would contribute to reducing emissions and overall reliability.

The US energy grid handles a wide range of inputs from different types of energy. Renewables, nuclear, coal, natural gas, and petroleum all contribute to energy production. In 2021, natural gas contributed 38% of total energy inputs, followed by coal at 22%. Renewable energy has been increasing in recent years and contributes to 20% of all electricity generated. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that by 2023, renewable energy will contribute to 24% of the energy produced for consumers.

In order to meet future demands and meet emissions targets, an increase in funding will be required to upgrade the existing grid to incorporate electric vehicles and residential solar. This is a great opportunity to decrease emissions and improve the reliability of the grid, whether it be realized at speed remains to be seen.


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard US Country Manager Dave Schroeder


Climate change is real, and what governments do matters.

Help us work with key stakeholders globally to ensure continued support of the The Paris Agreement.