- A preview of the North American Electric Reliability Corp.'s (NERC) 2021 Summer Reliability Assessment warns several regions are at risk of energy shortfalls in the case of above-normal temperatures. Cybersecurity is also a growing concern, according to NERC, in the wake of recent supply chain compromises.
- In particular, the report warns California will need 11 GW of late-afternoon energy transfers to meet system demand as solar output declines. Texas, New England and parts of the Midwest could also face shortages.
- Preliminary summer reliability conclusions were presented to the NERC board of trustees on Thursday. Director of Reliability Assessment and System Analysis John Moura said that despite the risks the report shed light on, there were still positive findings in the assessment, including improved restoration time following outages related to extreme weather and fewer instances of system misoperation.
Reliability is top of mind heading into this summer, with Texas and California serving as recent examples of grid challenges — and the Colonial Pipeline hack adds another layer of concern.
Extreme weather has caused blackouts in Texas and California in the past year, leaving millions without power. NERC said those states could face more problems this summer, and could be joined by New England and part of the Midwest.
Texas, New England and the Midcontinent ISO were found to have "elevated risk." California is the "greatest concern," said NERC. The 11 GW of energy imports could be necessary to meet late afternoon peak demand — in contrast to the 1 GW needed on a normal day.
CAISO officials acknowledge there is cause for concern, but say the system is better situated that it was a year ago.
The California Public Utilities Commission in February and March approved measures aimed at shoring up resources, including directing utilities to contract additional capacity from a variety of sources.
CAISO "anticipates supply conditions in 2021 to be better than 2020, but continues to see potential challenges in meeting demand during extreme heat waves," the grid operator said in its 2021 Summer Loads and Resources Assessment.
ISO New England issued a statement saying "we expect to have adequate resources to meet demand under normal and above average temperatures this summer. We'll be releasing our full summer outlook shortly."
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates most of the state's grid, has said it anticipates sufficient generation to meet peak loads this summer, but on May 6 also detailed three low-probability scenarios where extreme weather could lead to blackouts.
Texas grid officials say they expect record demand for electricity this summer, due to heat as well as population and economic growth in the state. ERCOT is heading into summer with a 15.7% reserve margin, according to the grid operator.
MISO has also projected adequate resources to meet peak demand this summer, despite a forecast of warmer-than-normal temperatures.
The grid operator expects a summer peak demand of 122 GW, and on May 3 said it has 146 GW of available capacity. However, MISO also acknowledged "that high load demand and high outages could drive operational challenges this summer."
"We expect sufficient resources to meet the summer peak demand based on information we received from our members and stakeholders," Renuka Chatterjee, MISO executive director of system operations, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, NERC officials caution that cyber attacks similar to the one earlier this month put the power system increasingly at risk.
"The Colonial pipeline attack underscores the interconnectedness of electricity with other infrastructures and is the reason we must redouble our focus on the reliability of the pipeline system that delivers essential fuel," NERC President and CEO Jim Robb said at last week's meeting. He noted that major weather events and the potential for supply chain compromises have ramped up the security and reliability risks for electric grids.
"If this had happened to a major natural gas line serving electricity generators under extreme cold weather conditions, the results could have been catastrophic," said Robb.
Colonial pipeline, which moves gasoline and other refined products along the east coast, voluntarily stopped flows of fuel when its information technology systems were compromised by ransomware. The pipeline paid a $5 million ransom to hackers to restore its system, Bloomberg reported.
Robb noted that NERC has previously recommended regulators establish cybersecurity standards for pipelines, similar to NERC's own security and reliability standards. The head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has made similar recommendations.
"This is not a jurisdictional play," said Robb. "Rather, it underscores the need for foundational security standards for an industry that is critical to reliability and national security."