By Denice Ross, U.S. Chief Data Scientist, OSTP
Tom Wilson, Assistant Director for Electricity, OSTP
Chris Irwin, Program Manager in the Office of Electricity, DOE
Our society increasingly depends on electricity, but more frequent extreme weather events are disrupting Americans’ access to power, especially in underserved communities. We need robust, comprehensive, and transparent power outage data to inform investments in grid resilience and restoration, deliver immediate benefits to our existing emergency response systems, and provide visibility into equity. That’s why the White House is launching a Call to Action that asks utilities and outage data companies to voluntarily share their data with the Outage Data Initiative Nationwide (ODIN). This call builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader efforts to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, invest in underserved communities, and achieve a reliable, long-term transformation of the energy system.
We have been gradually electrifying our economy for over a century, enabling sectors like manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and communications. Electricity coverage is expanding rapidly to provide cleaner transport, heating, and other energy needs across the economy. In the zero-carbon future needed to meet our climate goals, around 50% of U.S. energy use is projected to come from electricity compared to 3% in 1950 and 21% today. The Biden-Harris Administration recently highlighted the transition to a net-zero grid and accelerated electrification as one of five game-changing technologies for reaching net-zero. On December 14, 2022, the White House Electrification Summit will highlight current opportunities and gather critical public input regarding the innovation needed to accelerate and sustain progress.
In recent years, power outages, driven primarily by extreme weather events, have increased markedly, exceeding 8 hours of interruption in 2020 and 7 hours in 2021. These outages disproportionately affect historically overburdened and underserved communities. For example, during a 2021 winter storm in Texas, low-income areas experienced more pipe bursts and made more calls for help per person than other areas. Another study showed that after Hurricane Irma in Florida, higher-income individuals were able to evacuate to destinations with lower power outage rates than lower-income individuals. It also highlighted that in the coming years, more people will become dependent on electricity for home dialysis or oxygen concentrators, and this group appears to be disproportionately lower-income.
As we face a future with greater dependence on electricity, the extreme weather events that have driven recent power outages will worsen (National Climate Assessment (NCA4)). In response to this challenge, unprecedented federal investments will enhance flexibility, increase resilience, and help modernize the electric grid. For example, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the Department of Energy’s Grid Resilience Grants, which includes $2.5 billion in formula grants for States, Tribes, and Territories to reduce outages and enhance the resilience of the electric grid.
Additionally, the Grid Resilience Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) program provides $10.5 billion in competitive funding to enhance grid flexibility and improve the resilience of the power system against growing threats of extreme weather and climate change. These programs include:
- $3 billion for Smart Grid Grants to increase the flexibility, efficiency, and reliability of the electric system
- $5 billion in financing opportunities for the Grid Innovation Program to support innovative approaches to transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure to enhance grid resilience and reliability
- $2.5 billion utilities and related operators to reduce outages and enhance the resilience of the electric grid through the Grid Resilience Utility and Industry Grants; the ODIN data standard is a Program Policy Factor in this Funding Opportunity Announcement for this program
The Inflation Reduction Act provides $40 billion in loan authority to support transmission expansion projects and emerging technologies, including high-voltage direct current deployment and Government Emergency Telecommunications Service manufacturing and deployment.
Accessible, standardized power outage data can improve response times and save lives when combined with other emergency response systems. In the short term, this will allow communities to recover faster, measure progress, and ensure the needs of underserved communities are met. Over time, consistent, comprehensive outage data can help target significant investments to modernize our grid and reduce the severity of power outages.
Currently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other federal and local agencies rely on real-time outage data that are usually pulled together piece-by-piece from public data on utility websites. These data are fragmented, fragile due to external factors, and do not use a common standard. While individual electric utilities may announce outages on their website or via social media, outage data can be far more useful when it is shared easily, understandable by all, and able to be integrated with the many other systems and layers of information that enable an effective emergency response.
The Outage Data Initiative Nationwide — A Standard for Real-time Outage Data
The federal government has put data standards, data security, and computational tools in place to take a giant step toward the future. Now, we need electric utility partners to provide access to these data. The Department of Energy’s Outage Data Initiative Nationwide (ODIN), developed via a public-private partnership over the past eight years, is a secure data standard for power outage data that can unlock the value of efficient data sharing. Currently supported by more than 60 electric utilities in 26 states, the ODIN data standards improve visibility of the severity and scope of outages and provide local emergency responders with the data they need to save lives.
OSTP and DOE are jointly launching a White House Call to Action to bring together electric utilities and their data system partners to join us and provide standardized power outage data to ODIN. We aim to increase ODIN’s coverage to collect small-area, real-time, and comprehensive data from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. We encourage utilities to sign up to share their data using the ODIN data standard by December 9, 2022. This commitment will improve the transparency and consistency of outage information, enabling emergency managers, critical infrastructure partners, and other utilities to respond better to extreme events. At the White House Electrification Summit on December 14, 2022, we will announce the utilities that have made commitments to share their data with ODIN.
Looking to the future, we must ensure that communities overburdened by power outages are not left behind as electrification advances. Standardized outage data can provide Americans with a common base of shared information that gives us the power to respond to emergencies. We’re asking electric utilities and other partners to join us in taking a critical step forward and to share their data with the Outage Data Initiative Nationwide.
Erratum: The original version of this blog incorrectly cited the program for which the ODIN data standard is a Program Policy Factor.