Power Providers Face a Bevy of Burdens This Summer

Energy grid.
Published On
May 27, 2022

Climate change has arrived, and it is having a significant impact on power systems.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) has released a report that reminds us summer is less than a month away. With it will come higher temperatures and a major test for the nation’s power delivery systems.

NERC’s 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment, published in May, notes that weather officials are expecting above-normal temperatures for much of North America this summer. Climate conditions, compounded by several other factors related to infrastructure and capacity, present some challenging scenarios for the various system operators responsible for reliable power delivery across the continent.

For example, drought conditions are creating heightened reliability risk in many parts of the United States this summer. Energy output from hydroelectric generators throughout most of the Western United States is being affected by low water levels caused by drought and the resulting below-normal snowpack. These dry hydrological conditions threaten the availability of hydroelectricity for transfers throughout the Western Interconnection. In Texas, extreme drought could also produce prolonged “wide-area heat events,” which will lead to a corresponding extreme peak in demand for electricity. Drought conditions also continue over the Missouri River Basin, impacting output from thermal generators that use the Missouri River for cooling in the Southwest Power Pool.

Also related to the weather, extreme, late-season wildfires and the disruptions they cause to the grid are another major concern in parts of the Western United States and Canada.

NERC notes that capacity issues will add to the complications created by the climate crisis. For example, the Midcontinent ISO, which services parts of the United States and the Canadian province of Manitoba, faces a capacity shortfall in its north and central areas, resulting in a high risk of energy emergencies during peak summer conditions. A key transmission line connecting its northern and southern areas will also be out of service at the beginning of summer.

The report also notes that anticipated resource capacity in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan will be strained to meet peak demand projections, which have risen by over 7.5% since 2021.

Supply chain and commissioning issues are factored into the assessment. NERC notes that coal-fired plant operators are having difficulty obtaining fuel and nonfuel consumables as supply chains are stressed. Russia and other hostile actors pose a cybersecurity threat to the electricity industry. Finally, solar-tripping, or the unexpected shutting down of solar panels caused by grid disturbances, could threaten areas such as California and Texas that have a larger supply of solar power.

With all of this in mind, power providers face a volatile mix of challenges this summer. According to Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of reliability assessments, these grid operators will need “all available tools” to keep the system in balance this summer.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at richardlaezman@msn.com.

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