The U.S. Electricity Grid Faces Real Problems


There are two reasons why consumers experience a power outage. The first is obvious: a storm is coming and knocking down trees and power lines. This is what generally happens. But now there’s a second reason for blackouts in the United States: there just isn’t enough electricity to go around.

Electricity generation in the United States has always been an extremely reliable commodity. But recently there has been a startling drop – and Texas and California have offered glimpses of this disturbing trend.

In February 2021, parts of natural gas infrastructure and wind turbines in Texas froze, leaving utilities without enough fuel or generating capacity to meet demand. The ensuing power outages left more than 200 people dead.

In California, the challenge of the past two years has been dealing with power outages. This is an increasingly regular occurrence on hot days.

Power grid regulators have warned that the problems in California and Texas are just a glimpse of a brewing national grid reliability crisis. It seems they are right. The mismanagement of America’s transition to renewable energy is leaving entire regions of the country short of on-demand power generation capacity when it’s needed most.

Recently, the network operator of 15 US states, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), announced some surprising news. At a power capacity auction in April – which serves as an annual market to ensure sufficient generation capacity during peak consumption – prices jumped almost 50-fold.

Why this dramatic increase? MISO President Clair Moeller explained that some utilities simply don’t have “enough generation to cover their load as well as their required reserves.” This forced them to scramble for emergency power at almost any cost. Moeller warns that these states could see an “increased risk of temporary, controlled outages to maintain system reliability.” In other words, be prepared for power outages.

In recent years, the U.S. electricity supply has suffered what one industry analyst has described as a “vast coal and nuclear retreat.” This has resulted in the loss of much reliable electricity generation across the country.

Wind and solar power are currently being added to regional grids. But they only provide energy when the weather cooperates. Adding this renewable capacity looks good on paper. But the reliable, on-demand capacity of coal and nuclear is eroding at the same time. During peak demand on a cold, windless day – or on a scorching summer night – there may not be enough power for everyone.

It is a situation that is going from bad to worse. Utilities now demand reliable power generation. But US coal plants are being pushed into early retirement by regulatory pressures. This means that environmental regulations are out of step with the alarming facts on the ground.

Any transition to renewables must be managed in a way that does not impose skyrocketing costs on consumers or sacrifice the reliability of electricity supply. Natural gas prices have doubled over the past year, and the challenge of matching electrical supply to the limits of renewables remains an ongoing challenge. We need to rethink the role that existing coal plants can play in moving us towards our energy future.

Instead of dismantling our existing production capacity, let’s build on its shoulders. Power outages or complete network outages due to poor planning are unacceptable. The time has come for a responsible energy policy, not a reliability crisis.

Terry Jarrett is an attorney and energy consultant who has served on the board of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Source link


About Author

Comments are closed.