Amid national debate over grid security, NERC says reliability is improving
- The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) released its State of Reliability 2018 report on Thursday, concluding grid resilience is improving in spite of natural disasters and growing cybersecurity threats. The assessment comes amid widespread changes to the United States' generation mix and a debate about their impact on reliability.
- The report concluded that only one metric of reliability shows cause for concern: planning reserve margins. NERC previously said that a generation shortfall in Texas is possible this summer, in part due to 5 GW of retirements in the last year.
- While there were no NERC-reported cybersecurity incidents in 2017, the organization made several recommendations including technological hardening, fostering a culture of security and expanding the use of NERC's Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program.
NERC's assessment is good news for the power grid, but perhaps an awkward conclusion for federal officials who want to prop up struggling coal and nuclear plants. The White House has been considering a range of ways it could keep plants, particularly fossil fuel plants, from closing — but that push has been predicated on the idea that plant closures mean less reliability, which could be a threat to national security.
NERC's assessment, that the North American grid continues to become more reliable, would seem to reject that argument.
The North American bulk power system was hit by two Category 5 storms last year: hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The affected areas recovered "in record time," which NERC said demonstrates improved resilience of the North American bulk power system.
"The grid has several areas that continue to show year-over-year improvement, and we continue to see the sustainment of high performance across all of the key reliability indicators," James Merlo, vice president and director of reliability risk management at NERC, said in a statement.
Among its findings, NERC's report shows transmission outages caused by failed protection system equipment, AC substation equipment or human error, "all show a decreasing trend for the last five years."
"These three areas have historically been major causes of transmission outages," NERC notes. "Each has trended downward for the last five years; however, these areas remain major contributors to transmission outage severity and will remain areas of focus."
The largest number of the report's recommendations were aimed at cybersecurity. Despite not having a loss of load incident in 2017, the agency says "the number of cybersecurity vulnerabilities are increasing."
The report recommends expanding data input from cross-sector public and private resources, and called for its Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which manages the Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program, to include other data sources, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, "as inputs for increasing awareness of the broader security landscape surrounding critical infrastructures."
NERC should also "create, maintain, and support additional collaborative efforts to strengthen situational awareness for cyber and physical security," the report recommends, while still providing information to industry. Industry should also continue to review planning and operational practices "to mitigate potential vulnerabilities to the [bulk power system]."
NERC published its "2018 Summer Reliability Assessment" last month, generally concluding the bulk power system was in good shape heading into the hottest months. However, California will face a limit on natural gas output due to continued constraints at the Aliso Canyon storage facility.
And the Electric Reliability Council of Texas projects an anticipated reserve margin of 10.9%, NERC noted in the assessment, equating to "a capacity shortfall of 2,000 MW based on the Reference Margin Level of 13.75 percent."
- North American Electric Reliability Corp. State of Reliability 2018
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