NERC Warns Energy Shortfalls Almost Inevitable This Summer
The North American Electric Corp. (NERC) is warning that large swathes of the North American bulk power system (BPS) could face “elevated risks” of energy shortfalls this summer, especially if temperatures surge beyond normal peaks. But in California, risks are even more pronounced, owing to its reliance on imports to offset falling solar PV output in the late afternoon.
In its May 26-issued 2021 Summer Reliability Assessment (SRA), the nation’s designated Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) cautions that “above-normal” heat events pose “elevated risks” for energy emergencies in Texas, New England, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), and parts of the West. While grid operators in these regions have resources to meet normal peak summer demand, during abnormally hot events, they could see soaring demand from temperature-dependent loads, such as air-conditioning and refrigeration, or a reduction to power supplies stemming from “lower-than-capacity resource output or increased outages,” the entity said.
But in California, which suffered rolling outages owing to extreme heatwaves last summer, NERC warns of more pronounced risks of energy emergencies, even during periods of normal peak summer demand. NERC’s risk scenario analysis suggests the area will face “high risk” if above-normal demand is widespread in the West.
While unprecedented, the SRA is just another indicator that illustrates NERC’s “increased concern” about changes the ERO is seeing on the grid and their potentially dangerous consequences for reliability, NERC President and CEO Jim Robb underscored on Wednesday. “Many of you have been covering NERC for a while, and you’ve heard me talk about the challenges to the reliability paradigm created by a BPS that’s rapidly becoming more decarbonized, more distributed, and more digitized,” he told reporters. When viewed in terms of these multiple disruptors—which industry has termed a “three-D” transformation—the energy transition has offered “significant benefits to the industry and to consumers,” including “a substantially reduced carbon and environmental footprint, improved economics and improved operating and control efficiencies.”
However, changes are occurring at a “cost of rapidly increasing operating complexity on an increased cyberattack surface. In addition, we’re witnessing the reliability impacts of extreme weather, both hot and cold, as evidenced in California last summer in Texas earlier this year,” Robb said.
“The events of this past year and the outlook for summer is a stark reminder that in our hurry to develop a cleaner resource base, reliability and energy adequacy has to be taken into consideration,” he warned.
California’s Precarious Reliability Conditions
NERC’s precarious outlook for California is especially emphatic owing to California Independent System Operator’s (CAISO’s) generation and transmission capacity struggle to keep up with increased demand last summer, and its two prominent firm load-shed events of 1,087 MW on Aug. 14, 2020, and 692 MW on Aug. 15, 2020.