Despite a plethora of foreboding trends lurking over the continent like an ominous black cloud—global climate change, escalating demand, aging and inadequate infrastructure—the outlook for North American electricity reliability for the coming summer season is surprisingly good.

According to the annual 2008 Summer Reliability Assessment released in May 2008 by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), the system should be able to meet electricity demands this summer. The positive prognosis is due in part to a slight but significant increase in net capacity. Net capacity margins for the United States increased by 1.9 percent over last summer’s assessment. On the other hand, net capacity margins in Canada show a slight decrease of 1 percent. All regions project to operate within their target margin levels.

The summer forecast is not entirely devoid of red flags. NERC is closely watching reliability in Southern California, where voluntary conservation and on-call interruptible loads are projected to be needed more frequently than normal. The lingering effects of the drought in the Southeast also are a concern.

While the outlook for U.S. natural gas supply is healthy on all fronts heading into the summer, the availability of coal is an issue. Driven by strong global demand, U.S. coal exports have increased significantly over the past six months, putting constraints on the supply available to North American generators, which has, in turn, resulted in a drop in coal inventories at Eastern generators. NERC reports that these lower inventories do not present an imminent reliability concern, but the agency will monitor the situation over the coming months.

“It is encouraging to note that several reliability issues highlighted in last summer’s assessment have been addressed,” said Rick Sergel, president and CEO of NERC. “Increasing demand and limited infrastructure improvements over the long term are still very much a concern, however.”