Report reveals grid reliability is increasing despite new challenges
by Paul Wesslund, Contributing Columnist
The North American Electric Reliability Corp., known as NERC, recently graded the nation’s grid on reliability. The report revealed the electric grid is highly reliable and continues to improve, despite emerging challenges that may stress it in the coming years.
NERC’s 2022 State of Reliability reports that the network of power plants, transmission lines and associated equipment, referred to as the bulk power system or BPS, repeatedly improved its performance over the last six years. The year 2021 saw improvement in both the year-over-year and five-year average.
That trend comes despite the challenges of adding more energy generated from renewable sources and facing increasingly extreme weather patterns. The electricity that the bulk power system carries to you must be generated at the exact same time as you flip the switch to use it.
Here are a few of the major challenges the electric sector is facing, and NERC’s recommendations for facing these challenges head-on.
Given the frequency and intensity of severe weather that affects electric operations, NERC recommends a shift in focus from just making sure there’s ample energy supply to putting measures in place to withstand and recover from the impacts of extreme weather events.
Much of the NERC assessment focuses on the Feb. 2021 event in Texas, when six days of below-freezing temperatures left some people without power for as many as four days. NERC advises steps to provide more transmission connections across the country so power can be more easily shared. NERC also sets plans to better prepare equipment for cold weather, as many generating units failed in the freezing temperatures.
BEEFING UP CYBERSECURITY
Electric utilities repelled threats from what NERC called “increasingly bold cyber criminals” and referred to a relatively new term for using the internet for political and social protest, “hactivism.” NERC has established the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center that gathers information about the latest cyber threats and advises utilities about safeguards to take that supplement existing cybersecurity programs.
Across the U.S., electric cooperatives are working with national and local partners to fight cyber threats and add resiliency to establish relationships, provide tools, share resources and training information to continuously improve cyber protection.
INCREASED RENEWABLE ENERGY
Renewable fuels, like wind and solar, are clean energy choices, but they come with drawbacks for a smooth-running grid at any hour of the day. One major downside is they depend on whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. NERC calls them “variable energy resources” and sees a long-term solution in large-scale batteries that can store renewable energy so it can be available whenever it’s needed. Although battery technology is rapidly improving, NERC notes that utilities should continue to rely on natural gas-fired power plants to produce additional electricity when renewable options aren’t available.
Today’s energy landscape is wide-ranging and rapidly changing, yet the U.S. electric grid continues to keep power flowing. Your electric cooperative is working closely with grid operators to provide the dependable electricity you rely on every minute of every day.
For more, visit nerc.com and search for “2022 Reliability Report.”
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.