California and the Midwest face a “high risk” of electricity shortages in the next five years

Wind turbines and transmission lines at a wind farm near Interstate 12 in Rio Vista, California, on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

David Paul Morris | bloomberg | Getty Images

America’s electrical grid is being pushed to breaking point, and California, parts of the Midwest and parts of the south-central United States are at “high risk” of power shortages, says the non-profit organization charged with managing and evaluating the GRID.

“High risk” areas, marked in red on the map, may experience a decrease under “normal peak conditions,” according to the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation’s 54th annual assessment released Thursday.

The reasons for deficiency vary.

In the Midwestern states and Ontario, more power generation is being pulled than is being added online, NERC’s Mark Olson told reporters Thursday. The projected power shortages in that region have been anticipated since 2018, Olson said.

Olson said the risk in California is due to a “changing mix of resources” and “changing demand.” This means that there is a lot of renewable energy in the state, and its generation is not coordinated with the times when people need the most energy. NERC expects demand to fall below supply by 10 hours during the peak summer months in 2024.

Much of the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the western part of the United States is at “high risk” (marked in yellow on the map), which means that deficiency could occur in extreme conditions, such as during severe weather or periods of hot weather where everyone is running their air conditioners. In New England, the higher stakes come in the winter when people use natural gas-based generators.

“Natural gas capacity may be insufficient for generators, resulting in the use of reserve fuel, stored liquid fuel, and there are risks to the ability to maintain adequate fuel storage during long-term events,” Olson said.

The Southwest can also suffer when demand is high and wind power generation is low in the region.

Unusual times

“We’re living through extraordinary times from an electrical industry perspective,” John Mora, NERC’s director of reliability ratings, said Thursday.

Increasing awareness of climate change is driving utilities to phase out fossil fuel-based energy sources that generate carbon emissions. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar do not contribute to climate change, but they do have a period when they do not generate any energy (when the sky is dark or the wind is still).

Renewables are not necessarily tied to where the demand is, unlike fossil fuels, which can be transported and burned close to where they are consumed. That means more transmission lines are needed, and could take seven to 15 years to build, Mora says.

Another area of ​​note, according to NERC, is the increased energy demand for cryptocurrency mining and the need to plan for energy use there.

Then there is the weather. It’s hard to link specific extreme weather events to climate change, but it’s generally true that a warmer world is a wetter world, according to NASA climate scientists.

“Year after year, we’ve seen severe weather lead to increasing impacts on reliability. And so when we look at events over the past several years, it’s clear that the bulk power system is affected by severe weather more than ever before,” Mora told reporters on the media call.

These factors are putting increasing stress on the network, and NERC representatives are urging network operators to be conservative in their planning.

“Managing the pace of our generation’s retirement and changing our resource mix to ensure we have enough energy and basic services is an absolute necessity,” Mora told reporters during the call. “We need to work with the entire ecosystem to make sure that we manage that base, and to be very clear that we don’t retire generation prematurely – it’s done in an orderly way and especially in areas that are right on the edge.”

For its annual assessment of long-term electricity security, NERC looks at the next decade, but the Energy and Capacity Risk Assessment comes out over the next five years, from 2023 to 2027. There are a lot of moving parts and uncertainties for the risk assessment after the next five years will be worthwhile, according to NERC.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission adopted NERC to measure and enforce safety standards for the US power grid in 2006. NERC is overseen by FERC, the federal government agency responsible for regulating interstate electricity transmission.

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