A new report is getting a lot of attention from the energy industry and the wider public, and rightfully so, as it warns that two-thirds of the country is at elevated risk of reliability problems if this summer's temperatures spike to extreme levels—including California, the Southwest and the Northwest.
The 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation follows years of warnings on grid reliability from the organization as baseload coal and gas plants retire even as extreme weather, drought and wildfires, and other factors are pushing the grid to the edge.
"The Western Interconnection is experiencing heightened reliability risks heading into the summer of 2023 due to increased supply-side shortages along with the ongoing drought impacts in some areas, continued wildfire threats, and expanding heat wave events," the report says.
Along with the rest of the country, the report addresses the Western Electricity Coordinating Council's CA/MX region, which includes parts of California and Nevada as well as Baja California, Mexico—an area encompassing 1.8 million square miles and 82 million electricity customers.
The WECC CA/MX region shows adequate reserve margins under expected conditions at the peak hour, but the report also notes that variable energy supply (solar) creates a reliance on energy imports. Meanwhile, imports are shrinking and can be affected by wildfires, creating situations such as those of August 2020, when rolling outages occurred, and Labor Day weekend 2022, when the California grid was at the very edge. At the riskiest time of 8 p.m. during extreme heat this summer, there will be an increased need for energy imports, the report says.
WECC's Southwest and Northwest regions also have sufficient resources to support the grid in the peak hour, but energy variability there will also require increased usage of imports. Compounding the risk is the fact that wildfires that can disrupt transmission lines typically occur during high-heat events when air-conditioning demand surges.
The report notes that more than 2 GW of energy storage is on track to be installed in the West, which will help manage renewables variability.
In the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which saw widespread outages during Winter Storm Uri in February 2021 that caused hundreds of fatalities, the risk of drought and high temperatures might result in emergency procedures, including load shedding during low wind generation levels and generator outages.
Advanced Energy United, a consortium of companies promoting clean energy that includes such giants as Google, Ford, Microsoft and NRG, said the report underlines the need for more transmission infrastructure and a regional transmission organization in the West.
"Modernizing our 100-year-old electric grid with new transmission lines and new grid-improving technology will make it easier for all kinds of clean energy, like large-scale projects as well as household and neighborhood resources, to connect to the grid and make it more reliable and affordable," Advanced Energy United Managing Director Leah Rubin Shen said in a statement.
"The West has a diverse resource portfolio that with the necessary physical and operational infrastructure can provide power to consumers reliably during even the most challenging conditions," Jack Wadleigh, Western regulatory and market affairs manager at EDP Renewables, said. "Recent experience demonstrates that those who can easily share resources across a larger geographic footprint have better outcomes than those who cannot."
The NERC report recommends that reliability coordinators, balancing authorities and transmission operators in elevated-risk areas review operating plans and protocols to address possible supply shortfalls, employ conservative outage-coordination procedures, and engage with state regulators and policymakers to prepare for demand-side management measures.
NERC on May 18 also cheered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approving the organization's request for an inverter-based resources work plan, as well as expedited review of the plan. NERC had sought approval for a plan to identify and register owners of inverter-based resources within 36 months [RD22-4].
NERC in February said immediate action is needed to address the problem of inverter-based resources, such as solar, tripping off line, as happened in California and Texas in 2021 (California Energy Markets No. 1729).