Do you feel the heat? Here’s how it could get worse this summer

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Summer is officially still a week away, but triple-digit heat is already here in the Valley of the Sun.

The season is usually associated with higher temperatures, pool parties and barbecues. But this year, it could also be associated with something more unpleasant: power outages.

Experts point to three major factors for which further blackouts are expected in the coming months: post-pandemic energy demand, climate change and war.


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Summer is also the time when electricity consumption is at its peak. But this year could be more brutal than ever. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation recently alerted the public that two-thirds of the United States could experience power outages in the summer due to demands on the power grid and above-normal temperatures. This could result in multiple forest fires, dry hydrological conditions and even, in some extreme cases, death.

Anamitra Pal

ASU Now spoke to Anamitra Pal, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Power Engineering, for answers.

Pal’s research focuses on data analysis using time-synchronized measurements, artificial intelligence applications in power systems, energy modeling in smart grids, and resilience of critical infrastructure. He thinks the world will be fine this summer, but long-term thinking is needed for the future sustainability of the electricity supply.

Here is what he had to say:

Question: Experts predict that this summer will be particularly brutal and that the United States and the world will experience more blackouts than in the past due to three things: the pandemic, climate change and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. What is your reaction to this prediction?

Answer: In my view, climate change and war with Russia have a higher potential to disrupt the power supply in the summer of 2022 in the United States. Society as a whole seems to have accepted the COVID-19 pandemic, and unless something totally unforeseen happens – which I am not completely excluding – its effects on the power grid should be minimal.

Q: Why do these issues (pandemic, climate change and war) pose a potential threat to blackouts?

A: The pandemic has resulted in a load shift from the commercial and industrial sectors to the residential sector; however, the net load did not change dramatically. In addition, due to the closure of many commercial and industrial offices, the total system load (electrical) has even decreased in many states. The pandemic has resulted in the rejection of load forecasts and created voltage regulation issues and challenges in maintenance planning. However, over the past couple of years power system operators have become familiar with these issues, and so in the future they should be able to plan around them.

Climate change has been and continues to be one of the major threats to the modern power system. Most electrical engineers operate their systems with consideration for extreme but expected operating conditions. However, as climate change leads to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as massive hurricanes and wildfires, it is quite possible that the available resources will be insufficient to manage the system in extreme weather conditions. such extreme but unexpected circumstances. For example, electric utilities typically plan for the summer based on past historical data. Therefore, if an unprecedented heat wave occurs this year, the system may not have sufficient reserves to meet the higher than expected demand.

The war between Russia and Ukraine is the most uncertain of the three threats and the most difficult to plan. The most likely impact of this war on the US power grid will be in the form of cyberattacks. Russia has been found responsible for cyberattacks in the past, including one in Ukraine in 2015 that resulted in power outages lasting from one to six hours for around 230,000 consumers. If something similar happens in the United States during this summer, the consequences will be much more serious.

Q: Let’s focus on the United States for a moment. You would think that the nation has a great infrastructure in place to deal with issues like these. Do we have a problem with our infrastructure or our power grid?

A: The North American electrical grid is not only the largest machine in the world, but also one of the oldest continuously operating machines. Thus, many of its components are not designed to withstand the impacts of climate change and/or cyberattacks. A complete overhaul of the electrical infrastructure is also not possible due to its size and the fact that all other critical infrastructure depends on it for its proper functioning. This is the main problem we are facing right now.

Q: What are the short and long term solutions to these problems?

A: The way forward would be to make strategic and targeted interventions that can address issues that arise without negatively impacting everything else. For example, thanks to a recent grant funded by the National Science Foundation, I lead a multidisciplinary team studying the interactions between wildfires and electrical infrastructure. The objective of this grant is to prevent/reduce wildfire damage and minimize power outages by improving fire risk assessment and management options beyond existing frameworks and paradigms.

Likewise, adding more renewables to the system will have the dual impact of reducing climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the country’s total energy supply. Judicious hardening of key segments of the power grid, such as at network entry points, can significantly minimize the negative impacts of a cyberattack.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: To solve problems that are outside the realm of normality, you also have to think of solutions that are outside the box. How successful we are, only time will tell.


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