Summer and heat go hand in hand, there’s not doubt about that, but higher than normal temperatures, and earlier than normal heat waves are threatening the grid reliability in the Western regions of the United States.
This year has been a hot one for some states, and the heat came early. The two biggest impacted regions are California and Texas when it comes to summer reliability conversion. These ares are under siege from the weather conditions and providers are in a panic trying to relieve the stress on the grid to ensure reliability.
Power Companies Are Struggling to Meet Demand
Service providers for about 80-percent of California, California Independent System Operator (CAISO), were forced to issues widespread, statewide Flex Alerts during two days in July already. These alerts are sent out to ask for residents and business owners to lower their use of power during the peak hours in the afternoon and evening.
High temperatures across the Western United States prompted the Flex Alerts. Other contributing factors come into play with this delicate situation include reduced electricity imports, a reduced supply of natural gas supplies in the areas of Southern California, and the high wildfire risks during this time of the year.
When this alert is put out, power customers are encouraged to “Consumers can help avoid power interruptions by turning off all unnecessary lights, using major appliances before 5 p.m. and after 9 p.m., and setting air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher,” and the operator offers that “The ISO has called on all available resources to serve demand, however, conservation is needed to reduce the risk of further emergency measures, including rotating power outages.”
Meanwhile in Texas, their largest provider, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), manages about 90% of the electric load throughout the state. They reported a new record for all time system wide peak demand recently during a couple of hours in the afternoon on a July day. On July 19th, the demand record was set at 73,259 MW, marking the first time the demand during peak hours exceed 73,000 MW in the state.
Factors Besides Heat Come Into Play
As with California, the biggest factor to blame for this extreme surge is the extreme heat throughout the state, while other things do come into play during this grid overload as well. The providers don’t think they’re in the clear, and won’t be anytime soon — they fully expect to keep hitting higher numbers through the entire summer of 2018 due to the increased temperatures and new demand.
It’s not just the heat and weather or fires that’s to blame for the fear of unreliable service, it’s also the timing. ERCOT has retired sizable generation processes in the past year — they retired 4.5 GW of coal production in the first to month of 2018. At the end of 2017, they also retired 806 MW of gas fired capacity and have failed to increase their number of constructed new resources to catch up. CAISO has also experienced a lower than average hydroelectric production, especially in Southern California.
One company in a related industry, SPI Borescopes, a manufacturer and retailer of borescopes used for power plant and grid inspection, notes that a lack of natural power sources may be to blame. While many experts project a spike in the use of natural gas and renewable sources, the demand is still exceeding the supply.
No Solution Ahead for the Summer of 2018
This is causing providers to have to scramble do everything they can to keep the power on for their customers. They are putting more emphasis on operators, generators, transmission providers, and retailers to make sure things are running as smoothly as possible, as far as what they can control.
Concern has been expressed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. for the two areas when the summer of 2018 kicked off, and July proved that there was reason to worry. There are also other areas seeing higher than average temperatures, as noted by the two entities. Surprisingly, New England is one that stands out, but there’s also a span of regions across the Pacific Northwest experiencing higher temperatures that could pose a risk to increased grid load that might leads to unreliable service.
Things could get worse for people in the regions as the hottest days of the summer are still ahead. There’s also a possibility of hurricane season causing further issues in Texas if a significant storm makes landfall during August or September. This should be a sign to power companies to prepare better for the summer of 2019.