NEW REPORT REVEALS GRID RELIABILITY IS INCREASING DESPITE NEW CHALLENGES
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, also known as NERC, recently graded the nation’s grid on reliability. The report revealed the electric grid is highly reliable and continues to improve despite emerging challenges that may stress it in the coming years.
NERC’s “2022 State of Reliability” reports that the network of power plants, transmission lines, and associated equipment––often referred to as the bulk power system or BPS––repeatedly improved its performance over the last six years. That trend comes despite the challenges of adding more energy generated from renewable sources and facing extreme weather patterns.
The impact of widespread, extreme weather events has underscored the need to plan for extreme scenarios related to resource adequacy and energy supply. Spurred by federal policies and market conditions, a drastic decline in available power generation resources has made complex electric systems more difficult to balance. As the nation’s energy mix evolves and flexible generation (from sources that are fuel-assured, weatherized, and dispatchable) decreases, the risk of energy shortfalls is more likely.
The North American Electric Reliability
Corporation recently graded the nation’s grid on reliability. The report revealed the electric grid is highly reliable and continues to improve despite hurdles like severe weather patterns and a transition in how electricity is produced.
Renewable fuels like wind and solar are clean energy choices, but they come with drawbacks for a smooth-running grid at any hour of the day. One major downside is they depend on whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Despite these challenges that lie ahead, when it comes to measuring grid reliability, the year 2021 saw improvement in both the year-over-year and five-year average.
To understand the NERC report, it helps to know the system that delivers your electricity is often described as the most complex machine in the world. The U.S. bulk power system is made up of more than 7,300 power plants and nearly 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines. This system is responsible for delivering the majority of electricity to local utilities and their millions of miles of lower-
voltage lines that ultimately connect homes, businesses, and other energy consumers to the electric grid.
The electricity that the bulk power system carries to you must be generated at the exact same time as you flip the switch to use it. If that sounds like a mind-boggling job of high-tech coordination, it is. And the national grid does it every second of every day.
Despite that complexity and the widely reported threats like severe weather and cyberattacks, NERC says the grid continues to perform in a highly reliable and resilient manner overall, with year-over-year improvement, demonstrating the success of actions taken by the energy industry.
Here are a few of the major challenges the electric sector is facing––and NERC’s recommendations for facing these challenges head-on.
Given the frequency and intensity of severe weather that affects electric operations, NERC recommends a shift in focus from just making sure there’s ample energy supply to putting measures in place to withstand, adapt, protect against, and recover from the impacts of extreme weather events.
Much of the NERC assessment focuses on the February 2021 event in Texas when six days of below-freezing temperatures left some people without power for as many as four days. NERC advises steps to provide more transmission connections across the country so power can be more easily shared. NERC also sets plans to better prepare equipment for cold weather, as many generating units failed in the freezing temperatures.
Beefing Up Cybersecurity
Electric utilities repelled threats from what NERC called “increasingly bold cyber criminals” and referred to a relatively new term for using the internet for political and social protest, “hactivism.” NERC has established the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center that gathers information about the latest cyber threats and advises utilities about safeguards to take that supplement existing cybersecurity programs.
Across the United States, electric cooperatives are working with national and local partners to fight cyber threats and add resiliency to establish relationships, provide tools, and share resources and training information to continuously improve cyber protection.
Given the frequency and intensity of severe weather that affects electric operations, NERC recommends a shift in focus from just making sure there’s ample energy supply to putting measures in place to withstand, adapt, protect against, and recover from the impacts of extreme weather events, like this one near Oconto Electric Cooperative. Photo courtesy of Oconto Electric Cooperative
Increased Renewable Energy
Renewable fuels like wind and solar are clean energy choices, but they come with drawbacks for a smooth-running grid at any hour of the day. One major downside is they depend on whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. NERC calls them “variable energy resources” and sees a long-term solution in large-scale batteries that can store renewable energy so it can be available whenever it’s needed. Although battery technology is rapidly improving, NERC notes that utilities should continue to rely on natural gas-fired power plants to produce additional electricity when renewable options aren’t available.
Today’s energy landscape is wide-ranging and rapidly changing, yet the U.S. electric grid continues to keep power flowing. Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives are working closely with grid operators to provide the dependable electricity you rely on every minute of every day.
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.