Faced with a scorching summer, much of the United States is at risk of blackouts, a government agency warns

With the eastern United States already facing a possible heat wave this weekend, the country’s power grid regulator has a dire warning: large swathes of the country are at risk of blackouts this summer as the Rising temperatures lead to an increase in energy demand.

In his annual summer Evaluation released this week, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation noted that the Upper Midwest faces a capacity shortfall leading to “high risk of power emergencies.” The entire western United States could also face a power outage emergency if power consumption spikes.

“We’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. It’s probably one of the darkest pictures we’ve painted in a while,” said John Moura, director of reliability assessment and analytics. NERC performance, to CBS MoneyWatch.

A hotter-than-expected summer means more people would need more electricity to cool their homes and offices, while high heat and drought drain power supplies.

“Extreme heat and drought conditions can knock a lot of generation out of service,” said Rob Gramlich, president of Grid Strategies, a renewable energy consulting firm.

Drought conditions across much of the West mean less water available for hydroelectric power. The drought also affects power plants that run on coal, gas or nuclear energy, which create heat and need water to cool down.

“Extreme heat brings increased risks of mechanical failure for conventional power plants,” Gramlich said.

The mega-drought in the West threatens energy and water security


West and Midwest on high alert

NERC is also monitoring a potentially intense wildfire season across much of the West that is threatening power lines and, through smoke, reducing the amount of electricity created by solar installations.

“If a power line goes down due to a fire, there may be localized areas that lack power. It could be like half a state or half a neighborhood,” Gramlich said. . “And they’re obviously very difficult to predict.”

But the hardest-hit parts of the country could be the Midwest, NERC warned. Across a wide swath of the grid stretching from Illinois to Minnesota, summer electricity demands are expected to exceed grid capacity. That’s because this area of ​​the grid – known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO – has lost about 2% of its generating capacity since last year as power plants retired; a key transmission line is also down for maintenance.


North American Electrical Reliability Society

Moura said that as more capacity is added to the grid, much of it in the form of wind and solar power, old fossil fuel power plants are being removed faster than they can be replaced. Meanwhile, scorching summers push peak energy demand ever higher.

“As extreme weather continues to plague us, we have really noticed that extreme weather does not really mean rare weather,” Moura said. “We’ve seen the extremes happen more often. You need to plan to have more resources available just in case.”

Still, the assessment doesn’t mean Midwesterners should start panicking. NERC warned last year that nearly 40% of the US population was at risk of blackouts, but most of the grid except the Northwest was unaffected, Bloomberg reported.

What people should expect is that utilities will demand more and more energy savings as earlier and more frequent heat waves put strain on the grid. Earlier this month, the Texas grid operator pleaded with residents to reduce electricity consumption after six power plants unexpected stop. MISO told residents to expect “temporary and controlled outages” this summer.

Double the number of breakdowns

Reinforcing the grid would require bringing in more power generation resources and possibly keeping old power plants running longer, as well as increasing connections between regions to facilitate power transmission.

As more renewable energy is built, utilities and regulators can also manage it better by installing more batteries and encouraging customers to switch when using electricity to avoid overloads, a said Gramlich of Grid Strategies.

“The problem is that we all use electricity at the same time. But we don’t have to. We don’t have to charge our electric vehicles when we need air conditioning at four o’clock in the afternoon. noon,” he said.

If the United States fails to manage this transition successfully, we face the prospect of more severe and frequent blackouts, with potentially deadly consequences.

Widespread outage in Puerto Rico caused by a fire at a power plant


Recent research by Brian Stone, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who studies urban climate change, shows that power outages have increased in recent years.

“There has been a doubling in the number of outages per year over the past five years, and the majority of outages occur in summer, in hot weather,” he said.

“Most summers these days are the hottest summers ever. On top of that is just a creeping risk of outdated infrastructure…and those trends are converging at the wrong time,” Stone said. .

Of all the types of damage caused by climate change – hurricanes, floods and fires – Stone thinks the danger posed by heat waves is the most underestimated.

“In a city like Phoenix, air conditioning is vital for people, and if you have a disruption, that’s a huge vulnerability,” he said. “I characterize it as the greatest health threat that climate change poses to this county – a power outage during a heat wave.”

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