Extreme weather this summer will strain the U.S. power grids, putting two-thirds of North America at risk of electricity shortfalls this summer during periods of peak demand on the hottest days, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) said this week in its reliability assessment.
In a normal summer with around-usual temperatures, the grid would cope as resources are adequate to meet demand. However, if temperatures in the summer spike above norms and heatwaves sweep through North America, the U.S. West, the Midwest, Texas, Southeast, and New England, plus Ontario in Canada, may face supply shortages, NERC said in its 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment.
NERC has been warning about the grid’s vulnerability to extreme weather every year in the past few years as retirements of generators of stable dispatchable power have raised the risk of power shortfalls.
“Increased, rapid deployment of wind, solar and batteries have made a positive impact,” Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of Reliability Assessments, said.
“However, generator retirements continue to increase the risks associated with extreme summer temperatures, which factors into potential supply shortages in the western two-thirds of North America if summer temperatures spike.”
While there are no high-risk areas in this year’s assessment, the number of areas identified as being at elevated risk has increased, NERC said. Related: China Is Still Critical To America’s Clean Energy Boom
The U.S. West is at elevated risk due to wide-area heat events, which are often accompanied by wildfire risks to the transmission network, and this can limit electricity transfers and result in localized load shedding.
In Texas, despite ERCOT adding over 4 GW of new solar capacity to the grid since 2022, dispatchable generation may not be enough to meet reserves during an extreme heatwave accompanied by low winds. ERCOT’s peak demand forecast has also risen by 6% as a result of economic growth, NERC said.
“The risk of drought and high temperatures in ERCOT may challenge system resources and may result in emergency procedures, including the need for operator-controlled load shedding during periods of low wind and high generator outages,” according to NERC.
In the Southwest and Midwest, the grids face challenges in meeting peak demand in summer heatwaves if wind generator energy output is lower than expected.
Other reliability issues include new EPA environmental rules that restrict power plant emissions, according to NERC’s report. Those new rules will limit the operation of coal-fired generators in 23 states, including Nevada, Utah, and several states in the Gulf Coast, mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new standards on carbon emissions from coal and natural gas-fired power plants as the Biden Administration continues with its efforts to decarbonize the economy and the grids.
Moreover, supply chain issues present maintenance and summer preparedness challenges and are delaying some capacity additions, NERC said.
Also, “Unexpected tripping of wind and solar resources during grid disturbances continues to be a reliability concern,” the corporation said.
A summer of heatwaves and rotating outages would follow this winter’s grid issues in many parts of the U.S., when a winter storm during the Christmas holidays exposed the vulnerability of the energy system as natural gas and power supplies were strained, wells froze off, and utilities vastly underestimated power demand during the storm.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the U.S. trade association representing nearly 900 local electric cooperatives, said that NERC’s assessment of the grid reliability for this summer is “an especially dire warning.”
“This report is an especially dire warning that America’s ability to keep the lights on has been jeopardized,” NRECA chief executive Jim Matheson said, commenting on NERC’s reliability assessment.
“Proposals like last week’s EPA power plant rule will greatly compound the problem. Absent a major shift in state and federal energy policy, this is the reality we will face for years to come.”
Matheson also noted, “The decisions we make today determine whether utilities across the nation have the resources to power the American economy tomorrow. Federal policies must recognize the compromised reliability reality facing the nation before it’s too late.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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