Electric Grid Monitor Warns of U.S. Blackouts in ‘Sobering Report’

The central and upper Midwest, Texas and Southern California face an increased risk of power outages this summer from extreme heat, wildfires and extended drought, the nation’s grid monitor warned yesterday.

In a dire new assessment, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) described regions of the country pushed closer than ever toward energy emergencies by a combination of climate change impacts and a transition from traditional fossil fuel generators to carbon-free renewable power.

NERC’s analysis examined the potential punch of extreme weather, which may wreak havoc on everything from reduced hydropower to transmission lines brought down by wildfires. Grid operators are dealing with an increasing reliance on intermittent resources like wind and solar as coal units retire and the reliability and emissions of gas resources comes under scrutiny. How the summer unfolds also may have political ramifications, as it could affect public support for President Joe Biden’s push to decarbonize the U.S. grid by 2035.

The NERC report also highlighted what it called an increased, urgent hazard to grid operations from the electronic controls that link wind and solar farms to high-voltage grid networks. The devices, called power inverters, must be programmed to “ride through” short-term disturbances, such as the loss of a large power plant or high-voltage line, but too often they are not, Moura said. Those that shut down compound stress on the grid, he added in a briefing yesterday.

The report cited incidents in May and June of last year when the Texas system was hit with widespread solar farm shutdowns, followed by similar outages in California between June and August. The unexpected events disrupted traditional power plants, interfered with grid recovery operations and caused some outages of customer-owned power units, NERC said.