NERC’s 10-Year Grid Assessment: Enough Power, And Some Challenges
The latest edition of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) report on long-term power supply and reliability trends over the next decade says that we have enough power to meet demand through at least 2025. NERC, the nation’s overseer of high power electric grid reliability, also says that with the right measures in place, renewable energy and other resources can maintain and even enhance grid reliability. NERC is concerned, however, with the impact of higher levels of rooftop solar and similar resources on reliability, and is calling for more steps to assess and mitigate those impacts.
Overall, NERC’s 2015 Long-Term Reliability Assessment takes a comparatively measured approach in discussing wind, solar, and other drivers of grid transformation. It is a welcome change from NERC’s more alarmist voice in other reports in the last year, mostly centered on the Clean Power Plan (two of which are discussed here and here).
There’s enough power through 2025 – partly because energy efficiency reduces our supply needs
A primary purpose of NERC’s long-term assessment is to answer the fundamental question of whether we will have enough power to meet our energy needs and avoid blackouts. NERC’s answer is “Yes.” More precisely, NERC states that “all Assessments Areas appear to have sufficient plans for new generation and adequate resources through 2025.” In coming to this conclusion, NERC looked at factors such as expected power plant retirements, planned and likely new power plants, and forecasts of future energy demand.
One of the reasons the grid is expected to continue to meet demand is that our overall thirst for energy is dropping significantly. NERC attributes this partly to the growing impacts of state and federal actions to increase energy efficiency and demand response. Demand for power, which once grew by 2 percent or more annually, has fallen to under 1 percent nationwide, as NERC’s chart shows:
This might not seem like much, but consider: Our total national power plant capacity is 1,066,486 megawatts (over 1 Terawatt), so each percentage point drop represents thousands of megawatts of now-unnecessary power, and the pollution accompanying much of it. (See table 6.2.A of government’s latest Electric Power Monthly for power plant capacity ).
Implication – now is not the time to ease off of energy efficiency and demand response investments and programs; they will reap major savings and avoid millions of tons of carbon and other pollution.
The Clean Power Plan won’t crash the grid
Notably, NERC did not raise any serious concerns about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. In fact, NERC speaks positively about some elements of the final rule, commending EPA’s extended compliance dates and its reliability provisions. NERC is continuing to study the Clean Power Plan; its next report will be reliability guidance in early 2016 for the states to use as they develop their Clean Power Plan compliance strategies.
Implication – Those opposing the Clean Power Plan have no basis for claiming that it will disrupt grid operations.