A new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) shows that significant portions of the country are at a high or elevated risk of electric power shortfalls during heightened summer electricity demand.
Most of the western states, from Texas and Nebraska to California and Washington, were assessed to have an elevated summer reliability risk, meaning there is a potential for insufficient operating reserves in above-normal conditions. The upper Midwest, which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Illinois, were assessed to be at high risk for insufficient operating reserves in normal peak conditions. Similarly, some of the Southern states, including Louisiana and Arkansas and parts of eastern Texas were found to be at high risk.
The NERC attributed the concerns for transmission capacity and operations to a number of factors, including some key transmission lines being out of service and drought conditions that could reduce energy output from hydro and thermal generators. Additionally, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the regional transmission organization that provides open-access transmission service to the Midwest and Manitoba, Canada, is facing a capacity shortfall as peak demand is expected to grow by 1.7 percent this year.
Part of the problem is the unexpected tripping of solar generation, which is caused when equipment goes offline because of normal disturbances such as a lightning strike or more widespread disasters like the 2016 Blue Cut Fire in California. With solar making up an increasingly large part of the power grid, the risk posed by tripping increases. NERC is developing reliability standards that aim to improve solar performance, but the problem reveals that the move toward cleaner energy sources is outpacing the advancements in infrastructure technology needed to support the transition.
“Unfortunately, activist interest groups have successfully slowed deployment of a broad range of resources needed to keep the lights on – from the plentiful domestic natural gas resources that have been the backbone of electric sector carbon emission reductions to new transmission lines that are essential to facilitate the clean energy transition,” wrote Heath Knakmuhs, vice president and policy counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute. “These activists reliably contest every new natural gas pipeline proposal, even though natural gas is critical to balancing the intermittent output of solar and wind resources and such infrastructure could one day become essential conduits for the green hydrogen of tomorrow.”