What Successful GRIP Funding Applications Have in Common

Teri Viswanath

January 5, 2024

Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships

To address the need for increased grid flexibility and resilience, the U.S. Department of Energy selected 58 projects across 44 states last October to receive $3.9 billion through the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP). Roughly a dozen electric cooperatives successfully secured contracts in that initial round of funding, worth about $650 million.

Mindful that cooperatives are now preparing for the round 2 funding deadline this month, I reached out to two experts, Marguerite Behringer from Landis+Gyr and Lauren Khair with National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, who studied the process and applications. They kindly shared the lessons they learned from the first round of funding and how co-ops can use that information to craft a successful application. Here’s our interview.

You’ve both reviewed the successful applications. What categories of funding requests were successful?

Marguerite Behringer: In late November, the Grid Deployment Office (GDO) shared a few themes in a public webinar: wildfire resilience (13 projects for $1.3 billion), microgrids (11 projects for $1.4 billion), renewables integration (17 projects for $3.6 billion), and community and disadvantaged community impacts (all 58 awards). When looking at the co-op awards in particular, I divided themes by smart grid (64% included networks, controls, visibility technology), wires and fires (transmission, undergrounding, hardening, switching and sectionalization), and DERs (solar and battery systems). At least three of these awards also included advanced metering infrastructure to support these themes.

4 Key Themes Shared Across the 58 Successful GRIP Funding Applications
  Description Selectees and Funding Levels
Wildfire Resilience GRIP projects around the country will make significant investments in wildfire resilience and mitigation projects and will deploy innovative solutions to improve grid operators’ ability to approach wildfire prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
  • 13 projects
  • $662.5 million federal investment
  • $1.26 billion total investment
Microgrids GRIP projects will support investment in over 400 microgrids, which are a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources that can provide electricity to a small community or region, which enhances the resilience of the grid again extreme weather.
  • 11 projects
  • $659.1 million federal investment
  • $1.4 billion total investment
Renewables Integration GRIP projects will support further integration or renewables through technological deployments such as Distributed Energy Resources and Distributed Energy Resource Management platforms that will further unlock renewable energy resources to the grid, as well as EVs, batteries, and other devices.
  • 17 projects
  • $1.6 billion federal investment
  • $3.6 billion total investment
Community/DAC Impacts All GRIP projects include a Community Benefits Plans that outlines how the project will invest in disadvantaged communities and in workforce development and labor engagement.
  • 100% of projects have J40 commitments

While these categories will carry over into round 2, it’s worth noting that DOE has named a few “priority areas of investment” that expand on these themes. (For more information, see pages 6 and 7 of the Funding Opportunity Announcement). The next round broadly seeks to specifically address resilience against extreme weather, transmission innovation, interconnection improvements, and resilience for disadvantaged communities.

Lauren Khair: Based on what the GDO funded in the first round, it looked like they were focused on wildfire and microgrid projects, including the Wildfire Assessment and Resilience for Networks (WARN) that NRECA partnered with Holy Cross Energy on. NRECA is very excited that, as an organization, we could help our members secure funding. According to GDO, the most successful projects suggested a multi-pronged approach to solving their challenges, not assuming one size fits all solution.

I recall that both of you mentioned the need for specificity around the application. In particular, successful applicants would need to be very plain spoken and descriptive about the ‘addressable’ harm that they sought to remedy. Can you expand on this?

Behringer: The Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) names a few hazards and concerns for applicants to address, such as the operational capacity of the existing transmission network or, in the case of topic area 1 (resilience grants), “the extent to which the application specifically and convincingly demonstrates the applicant’s technical ability to: comprehensively mitigate one or more hazards faced by community or region...” Topic areas 1 (resilience) and 3 (innovation) repeat the word “specific” nine and six times, respectively, asking applicants to identify specific hazards, contingency, system upgrades, resilience benefits, and/or ways to integrate variable renewable energy.

More broadly, the DOE appears to be interested in hearing about the characteristics of each applicant’s territory. What reliability and resilience risks are putting pressure on the system? What are the socioeconomic characteristics of the communities served? How does this project improve the local economy? What are your SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) commitments can you make in the Community Benefits Plan? These questions are woven throughout.

Both the concept paper and full application also rate submissions on how well they integrate relevant local energy plans: “How the project supports State, local, Tribal, community and regional resilience, in reducing the likelihood and consequences of disruptive events, decarbonization, or other energy strategies and plans.”

Khair: Cooperatives and other rural utilities, in both their concept papers and applications, need to be explicit about the opportunities and challenges that these funding proposals would address. Agencies need to understand the impact that their funding would have and are not always as familiar with the cooperative business model.

As we consider the actual language used in those applications, I recall that you also noticed popular wording used in round 1. Can you share those insights with us?

Behringer: I like to remind folks that the FOAs are essentially 142-page writing prompts. Taking us back to our elementary school skills, it is important to sharpen our pencils and reflect the structure of the prompt in our essays and repeat key words of importance. I ran an analysis of the top words in the 34 smart grid grants and these are the top 18 or so words that were repeated:

Behringer: Clearly, the GDO is looking to develop systems that support innovative, manageable grid flexibility that enables clean, local communities to respond to extreme weather conditions. Importantly, policymakers want to see benefits clearly dictated and delivered to disadvantaged communities. It’s important to acknowledge that to achieve this vision, utilities will need a new paradigm of sensors and data analysis. The combination of continuous, high-fidelity, real-time waveform data and software lays a platform to address many of these concerns.

Khair: I think it is critical that folks talk about how these grid enhancements will allow them to future-proof their grids to allow for other electrification. It is important to discuss both the current challenges the specific project would address, but also the potential future benefits of the project. The funding agencies want to be able to see that there is a plan for this project outside of fixing the near time problem.

Marguerite, you mentioned that organizations need to consider their key concerns, but I was struck by the idea that ‘size matters’ when it comes to these funding requests. Can you discuss this?

Behringer: I encourage utilities to consider their “wish list” when drafting their request: If you could have everything you needed to make your grid highly functional and resilient, what would the result be? You’ll notice that only a handful of the awards fund a single technology solution (e.g. Algonquin Power Fund America’s SmartValve project). Most projects blend a stack of technologies, which often support a broader vision for a flexible grid. Some projects highlight the vision without disclosing the technologies to get there, while others focus on the technology solutions that achieve a coordinated outcome. For comparison, you might look at Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s Adaptable Grid Project, which defines broad investments for a clean energy economy, versus Rappahannock’s “Enabling EV and DER Adoption through DERMS, AMI, and Fiber Integration” project.

Regarding size, the first round did not have a minimum project floor. This round, topic areas 1 (resilience) and 2 (smart grid) have new “anticipated minimum rewards” which may require projects to be at least $15 million and $20 million, respectively, with $10 million coming from DOE. This is a change from the first round, where only nine awards were under $10 million, all of which were awarded to state authorities, cooperatives, and municipally-owned utilities. DOE’s encouragement of consortia-driven applications may help those smaller entities overcome the resource constraints associated with acquiring federal funding. It might also incentivize organizations like NRECA and APPA to aggregate projects in a meaningful way.

At the GridCONNEXT 2023 Conference, a representative from the DOE Grid Deployment Office shared that some changes that were made to the round 2 applications. What are details?

Behringer: Here is my list of key changes for round 2:

  1. Priority for projects that cover multiple utility territories and vendor-driven applications
    • Approximately 34% of Round 1 applications fall into this category, including two multi-state, multi-coop applications (Tri-State and Holy Cross)
    • Note that aggregated projects with uncoordinated benefits + vision may not score well
  2. New “anticipated minimum” award limits
  3. New, doubled maximum awards for projects that aggregate multiple utility service territories
    • Grid Resilience (up to $250 million)
    • Smart Grid Grants (up to $100 million)
  4. Shorter, form-based PDF concept paper
  5. Pre-selection interviews and Q&As
  6. A new section with “elements of a successful application”
  7. New guidance for priority investment areas (see page 6 and 7 of the FOA; substation hardening, resilience against extreme weather, etc.)

Khair: I’d add that in the 2nd round the GDO is focusing more on small utilities with a focus on consortium applications -- which is a great opportunity for our [NRECA] members. The FOA also allows transmission to be funded when it addresses resilience concerns.

What other advice do you have for our cooperatives that are applying for GRIP funding?

Behringer: I advise our cooperative customers on four key principles to winning a GRIP grant:

  1. Don’t apply alone. Multi-utility applications will be prioritized. Partnerships with local community organizations (universities, nonprofits, unions, large businesses) will significantly enhance your application.
  2. Convey a vision. Multiple technologies should be included in support of a broader vision (e.g. a communications network for an interactive, equitable grid).
  3. Emphasize community. Engage disadvantaged communities early and often. Integrate these communities and Justice40 into your deployment strategy. Seek external advice on your Community Benefits Plan.
  4. Work with Landis+Gyr. Our products exist at the nexus of all three GRIP grants, especially our communications networks, grid sensors, analytics, and flexibility management solutions, representing an ideal complement to DOE’s priority areas. Work with us to learn how to speak GRIP and get a WIN.

Khair: My advice is that cooperatives should ensure that they spend time on their community benefits plan (CBPs) for their full applications. The CBPs are normally at least 20% of the weight of an application and can really make or break whether the applicant receives funding. I would encourage our members to check out NRECA’s Infrastructure Hub regarding CBPs and other programming to help them be successful.

The key message that Marguerite and Lauren leave us with is that GRIP applications need to be very intentional and meet a well-defined community need that might not otherwise be met without federal funding under this program. Projects that in essence future-proof local systems against climate threats or pave the way for greater electrification are likely to be considered. That said, based on just how well the sector fared in the first round of GRIP funding, co-ops appear to be ahead of the curve in advocating their communities’ needs.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this report is not intended to be investment, tax, or legal advice and should not be relied upon by recipients for such purposes. The information contained in this report has been compiled from what CoBank regards as reliable sources. However, CoBank does not make any representation or warranty regarding the content, and disclaims any responsibility for the information, materials, third-party opinions, and data included in this report. In no event will CoBank be liable for any decision made or actions taken by any person or persons relying on the information contained in this report.


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