U.S. Grids at Risk this Summer from Heatwaves

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently released its 2024 Summer Reliability Assessment (SRA). One of the main takeaways is that large swaths of the U.S. remain at risk of shortfalls this summer, although some areas have reduced that risk because of added resources. That does not mean that blackouts are imminent—in fact, consistent with NERC’s 2023 report, all areas should have adequate supply for the normal peak load in average conditions. However, there are seven that the SRA identifies as having an elevated risk: Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), MRO-SaskPower, NPCC-New England, Texas RE-ERCOT, WECC-British Columbia, WECC-California/Mexico and WECC-Southwest.

John Moura, NERC’s Director of Reliability Assessments said, “One of the key challenges operators face as the resource mix evolves is how to get through the summer evening periods with fewer available resources at their disposal.” For example, ERCOT has grown its solar and wind loads significantly, providing additional energy sources. Unfortunately, those sources of energy wane in the late afternoon and evening while demand stays high, especially in the hot summer months.

Similarly, as GAIN has highlighted in the past, the proliferation of data centers and artificial intelligence are causing additional strain on grids across the country. In Texas, cryptocurrency mining is a large part of increased demand forecasts, both this summer and for the foreseeable future. NERC says, “While resource additions in Texas, primarily solar PV, are outpacing demand increases, energy risks are growing during the hours when solar output is diminished.” NERC recommends assessing and planning for any supply shortfalls in the ‘elevated risk’ areas in anticipation of potentially extreme demand.

Apart from additional planning, procedures and engagement with state, federal and local stakeholders, the U.S. also needs backup plans for baseload power generation. This reality is why an all-of-the-above strategy is so important. Solar and wind power are helping keep the lights on during the day, but the U.S. needs to have cheap, efficiently transported natural gas available to all regions of the country in order to avoid any disastrous outcomes this summer.

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