Our History

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Our history begins in 2003 when the Department of Energy (DOE) created two offices to focus on several critical areas: the Office of Electric Transmission and Distribution (TD) to advance the technologies needed to ensure a reliable, robust, and modern U.S. electricity grid, and the Office of Energy Assurance (EA), to coordinate Federal response activities within the energy sector during energy emergencies. Shortly afterwards, on August 14, 2003, the largest power blackout in North American history affected an estimated 50 million people in the Midwest, Northeast, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Both offices responded quickly, with EA staff facilitating the energizing of an electrical line between Connecticut and New York – restoring power to large sections of New York City – and TD staff working with the newly-established U.S./Canada Power System Outage Task Force to analyze the causes of the blackout and recommend future steps to improve grid reliability. In 2005, DOE merged the EA and TD offices into the new Office of Electricity (OE). Two years later, OE was elevated to the position of Assistant Secretary of Electricity to reflect the importance of the electricity portfolio within the DOE mission.

Since its inception, OE has catalyzed investment in electric and energy infrastructure. In 2009, to accelerate modernization of our nation’s aging energy infrastructure, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invested an unprecedented $4.5 billion in the electric sector — matched by private funding to reach a total of about $9.5 billion. Of the $4.5 billion, $3.4 billion was used to help industry accelerate the deployment of advanced technologies that are now keeping the lights on more reliably and efficiently and reducing costs. While much progress has been made, much more work is needed. Partnerships with the energy sector, federal, state, and local agencies and organizations, and DOE’s National Laboratories and continued investment in innovation are vital.   

Since 2003, the U.S. has suffered numerous weather events that have resulted in major power outages. Among the largest were Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which resulted in nearly 10 million customers losing electric power. As the Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages report prepared by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and OE, with assistance from the White House Office of Science and Technology, states, “Grid resilience is increasingly important as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather.” Under the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Protection Plan, OE works closely with Federal, State and local governments, and industry to protect against and mitigate threats on the energy infrastructure, regardless of whether they are caused by natural disasters, deliberate attacks, or are the result of human error.  In the event of an energy emergency, we coordinate the response among Federal, State and local agencies, help facilitate the restoration of energy systems, and provide situational awareness.  Protecting the grid from all hazards, both natural and manmade, is vital to America’s security, economy, and the services that Americans rely on every day.

As the energy landscape evolves, OE has evolved as well to help move the Nation to a more resilient, reliable, and secure energy future. Over the years, OE has continued investing in research, development, demonstration and deployment of advanced grid technologies while also developing new modeling and analytics capabilities that can evolve as technology and policy needs mature; growing the technical assistance to states and regions to help improve policies, utility incentives, state laws, and programs that facilitate the modernization of the electric infrastructure; improving the Federal transmission permitting process; and pursuing technologies and approaches to improve the reliability, survivability, and resiliency of the energy infrastructure, and facilitate faster recovery from disruptions to the energy supply. Among today’s key priorities are addressing cyber and other emerging threats such as geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulses, and mitigating the risks associated with the loss of large power transformers.

Most of OE’s efforts today are being conducted through the Grid Modernization Initiative. As part of the Grid Modernization Initiative, the Energy Department announced funding in January, 2016 of up to $220 million over three years for DOE’s National Labs and partners, organized under the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC). The GMLC funding will support critical research and development in advanced storage systems, clean energy integration, standards and test procedures, and a number of other key grid modernization areas. This effort recognizes regional differences and will strengthen regional strategies while defining a diverse and balanced national strategy.

OE has played and will continue to play a major role in addressing both the immediate and the long-term challenges to America's energy security, while sustaining applied research into new technologies and policies needed for the grid of the future.