A summer of blackouts?  A buzzing power grid leaves states at risk.  - Washington Post

A summer of blackouts? A buzzing power grid leaves states at risk. – Washington Post

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The nation’s power grid is under unprecedented strain, with regulators warning that the kind of gradual outages now familiar in California and Texas could be more prevalent as hot summer weather sets in.

A large swath of the Midwest has enjoyed stable electricity for decades now wrestling with expectations It lacks the strength to cross a heat wave. The regional grid is short of the amount of energy needed to power 3.7 million homes.

New Mexico attorney general prepares for ‘worst-case scenarios’ after regional Utility warned of possible power outages. North Dakota regulators have advised the state to be ready for blackouts, Arkansas officials are preparing emergency measures to conserve energy, and Arizona power companies are already sounding alarms next year.

Longer and more frequent outages affect the US power grid as countries fail to prepare for climate change

While America’s power grid has been showing signs of distress for years, the sudden warnings surprised even those who were sounding the alarm. That’s because the harsh weather precipitated by climate change and The early retirement of fossil fuel stations has accelerated the destabilization network – fragile The collection of switching stations and transmission lines has already been challenged due to lack of investment.

This situation has alarmed energy experts, who have warned that grid instability may reverse Plan to move quickly toward a climate-friendly economy. Plans depend heavily on most of the nation turning to electric vehicles and plug-ins Household appliances such as stoves and hot water heaters, which will increase the demand on the power system.

“We’ve been issuing warnings about the grid for a number of years,” said Mark Denzler, CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association. But the speed with which this happened took people by surprise. They didn’t think we’d have these problems for a few years.” In the event of a power outage, He said heavy industry users are the most vulnerable to interruptions, as utilities work to avoid electricity cuts to homes in periods of extreme heat or cold.

Fears of incessant blackouts threaten to compound the tension and anxiety of a shaky economy, the ongoing pandemic and power shortages exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. It led to warnings in unexpected places.

Southern Illinois is among the most vulnerable places in the country as summer approaches, according to forecasts recently published by North American Electric Reliability Corp., a regulatory body that monitors risks to the grid.

The region, along with large parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other states connected to the regional grid, was notified in the forecast that it faces “a high risk of energy-related emergencies during peak summer conditions.” One of the main reasons is that some of the coal plants that regulators assumed would continue to operate for another year or two, will go out of business instead. Some plant operators are choosing to close rather than invest in coal plant upgrades that don’t fit with state and federal long-term clean energy goals.

“We are seeing these retirements happen at a faster rate than expected,” said Jim Robb, CEO of the regulator. “The economy isn’t great, so coal plant operators say ‘uncle’.”

As demand grows across the Midwest, the amount of power available to the mid-continent autonomous system operator’s network that serves a large segment of it has fallen, leading regulators to warn that Power outages can accompany severe summer weather.

Stalled coal plants are just one of many challenges that are placing unprecedented strain on the country’s power grid.

“It’s a soup of things,” Rob said. “The network is transforming. We are putting in a lot of new resources and learning how to behave.” This is compounded by long periods of severe weather, the inability of utilities to build much-needed transmission lines as they grapple with land-use disputes, and difficulties getting supplies of natural gas to power plants that are a mainstay of wind and sun power when they don’t shine, Robb said. The sun does not blow the wind.

Some Midwest political leaders and utilities assure residents that their connections to neighboring networks can provide a power reserve to avoid blackouts if the Central Continent’s system comes under stress. But energy experts warn that such power transmissions may not be available in the event of a prolonged heat wave stretching across many states, as California learned when part of its grid flooded in the summer of 2020.

“They were relying on transfers,” Rob said. But it was hot in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. It was hot everywhere. Nobody has extra strength to offer.”

California has already informed its residents that a similar scenario could happen again this summer. State forecasts show that during peak summer periods, California will fall short in terms of the amount of electricity needed to power 1.3 million homes.

How extreme heat is straining California’s electric grid

The western and southwestern states also face new challenges regarding their energy supplies as they approach summer. Among the biggest are droughts that have already disrupted hydroelectric systems that are key to delivering reliable power to large areas of North America. Should extreme heat increase demand in the West again this summer, hydropower shortages threaten power emergencies across the Western Interconnector, which serves 80 million people in 14 states and parts of Canada. Dry rivers and reservoirs threaten to leave insufficient water flowing through the plants.

Drought is also a concern at nuclear and fossil fuel plants, where low water levels can impede the cooling process necessary for steady power generation.

“We’re in uncharted territory with respect to water,” said Michael Warra, an energy scientist at Stanford University. “It has all kinds of effects.”

Meanwhile, Texas is still struggling to support a beleaguered power system operated by the state independently of the national grid. The state’s challenge was emphasized in May – a relatively mild month in Texas – when energy officials urge consumers To turn their thermostats to 78 degrees and avoid using large household appliances during a brief period of unusually warm weather.

“For such a free-market, capitalist-oriented country, you have to see the irony in that,” said Ed Herz, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “The last time I was asked to turn the thermostat to 78 degrees was by Jimmy Carter.”

A Texas drought threatens to disrupt the operation of steam or thermal power plants, according to North American Electric Reliability Corp. , which may lead to power shortage in case of extreme heat.

“We have let our infrastructure deteriorate to the point where we have these failures,” Herz said. “Someone has to stand up and start doing something. We haven’t even touched on what will happen to the grid when every family of two converts to a Ford F150. [pickup truck] And one electric passenger car. Grid can’t even handle what we have right now.”

Extra cars are the future. The network is not ready.

The shift to wind and solar energy plays a role in stability issues, but there heated debate About whether the underlying issue is that the transition is happening too fast or too slowly.

“Everyone has a good sense of where we want to go in terms of fleet decarbonization,” Mid-Continent CEO John Bear said during a press event hosted by the American Energy Association. We are moving in this direction. Unfortunately, we are moving in that direction very quickly and I am concerned about the transition.” He said that the storage technologies needed to balance the deployment of wind and solar energy were still being developed, while at the same time, coal and gas plants that could provide more consistent energy It either stops working or does not function as reliably as it once was due to its presence.Owners are reluctant to invest in upgrades.

But many other energy experts argue that having reliable backup power to facilitate the transition is not a matter of waiting for new technology, but of making the appropriate investments now.

M said. Granger Morgan, professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University: “The problem is that no one is responsible.” He said that the national electricity grid is a mixture of regional systems designed to be guided by market demand in each region. Federal regulators have limited power over them, and many states have restricted their own power to manage energy resources as part of a campaign to liberalize regulation that took root in the 1990s.

“We don’t have the national regulatory arrangements and incentives in place to implement this energy transition in a coherent and fast enough manner,” Granger said. Energy experts refer to transmission lines as an area where the current system fails. It is badly needed to generate power generated on solar and wind farms in rural locations across state lines to energy-starved cities. But state regulators have been slow to approve it amid protests from property owners who do not want power lines on their land.

The problem is high on the priority list at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is currently working on rules intended to help pave the way for more lines to be built.

Manufacturers in Illinois were concerned about all these issues around the grid For some time. Now they face an even more pressing challenge: to survive through the summer.

“We support a cleaner, greener future, but we need proper slopes in and out of the home,” Denzler said.

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