There’s a lot to like about summer. The flowers are all in bloom, vacation is often on the horizon, and the warmer weather means spending more time outside. But after a day in the sun, there’s nothing better than returning to a comfortable, air conditioned home. Unfortunately, that may be in jeopardy, as electric grid operators around the country are warning of possible shortages this summer for a number of reasons, including electricity supply not keeping up with demand.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently warned in its 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment (PDF) report that June to September could prove to be very difficult for many areas around the country, including California, Texas, and the Midwest. Drought, high temperatures, wildfires, capacity shortfalls, supply chain issues, and cyber security threats are just some of the problems that could potentially could lead to power outages over the next few months.
The problem is especially acute this year, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, because “traditional power plants are being retired more quickly than they can be replaced by renewable energy and battery storage. Power grids are feeling the strain as the U.S. makes a historic transition from conventional power plants fueled by coal and natural gas to cleaner forms of energy such as wind and solar power, and aging nuclear plants are slated for retirement in many parts of the country.”
In California, which is pushing electrification in order to be carbon neutral by 2045, the problem is especially dire. At a media briefing at the beginning of May, Reuters reported that officials from various California energy agencies “forecast a potential shortfall of 1,700 megawatts this year, a number that could go as high as 5,000 MW if the grid is taxed by multiple challenges that reduce available power while sending demand soaring…Supply gaps along those lines could leave between 1 million and 4 million people without power.” By 2025, the state is expected to have a capacity shortfall of about 1,800 MW.
Other parts of the country are not doing well either. For example, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which is responsible for operating the power grid across 15 Midwestern states and part of Canada, has projected the need for increased, non-firm imports and potentially emergency resources in order to meet the 2022 summer peak demand, which is forecasted to be 124 GW, compared with 119 GW of projected regularly available generation within MISO.
“The seasonal assessment aligns with the cleared resources identified in the 2022-2023 Planning Resource Auction, which indicated capacity shortfalls in both the north and central regions of MISO and leaving those areas at increased risk of temporary, controlled outages to preserve the integrity of the bulk electric system,” said JT Smith, executive director of market operations at MISO.
Texas is also struggling. In early May, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of about 85% of the electricity used in Texas, warned of a “possible future emergency condition of reserve capacity deficiency” as a result of a demand surge that accompanied a heat wave across most of Texas. With unseasonably hot weather continuing unabated, ERCOT announced on May 13, that six power generation facilities had tripped offline, resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity. ERCOT subsequently asked customers to conserve power during peak hours through the weekend. Even Tesla weighed in during the heat wave, advising Texas drivers to avoid charging their cars during peak hours of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
With electricity uncertainty an issue across much of the U.S. this summer, contractors would be well advised to make sure their customers are prepared for outages. Particularly commercial customers like supermarkets and other food retailers, where the loss of electricity can mean the loss of tens of thousands of dollars of frozen and refrigerated food. For these customers, backup generators may be warranted, as well as upgraded controls to ensure food stays at a safe temperature. Installing doors or pull-down curtains on open refrigerated cases may also help, as would a plan to quickly move perishables to refrigerated trucks or nearby distribution centers.
Summer has only just started, and the really hot weather is just around the corner. With so much of the electrical grid straining to keep up with spring demand, the outlook for the next few months is not encouraging. Power outages may be more frequent, so now is the time to make sure all customers have a plan for what to do when the lights go out.