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Another winter storm highlights the vulnerability of demand planning.

image credit: Courtesy Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
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  • Dec 30, 2022

Winter storm Elliot, which dropped snow and/or frigid temperatures on roughly two-thirds on the U.S. population, put the country's grid resilience to the test. Dozens of people died in the storm, and millions were left without power, for at least some of the time, as electricity demand skyrocketed and the temperatures fell way below freezing. Winter demand records were set for the Southwest Power Pool (which manages power for much of the Central U.S.), Texas and Tennessee.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest public power utility, was forced into issuing rolling blackouts for 10 million customers, reminiscent of how Texas handled Winter Storm Uri in 2021, though not as catastrophic. Duke Energy lost some power plants to freezing conditions, which forced rolling blackouts in North and South Carolina. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas received a greenlight to bypass pollution standards in order to fire up dirty power plants in case they were needed. 

Although the country's energy system seemed unable to handle energy demands as the storm was occurring, the grid showed resiliency and ensured that the rolling blackouts and energy emergencies were short-lived, unlike the days-long blackout in Texas in 2021. This ability to bounce back relatively quickly led one S&P Global power sector analyst to tell NPR that the grid received a B for its performance during the winter test. Although a lot of luck may have been involved with the power system's ability to stay standing during this haymaker of a storm. 

Although the bounceback certainly deserves recognition, this historic, devastating and deadly storm arrived during a winter most weather models predicted would be mild. Of course, weather predictions further than 10 days out are unreliable; however, this storm showed a need for the country's power providers and grid operators to rethink their predictive models and what they consider "mild." This conversation over the new normals posed by climate change began after Winter Storm Uri in 2021. This latest weather emergency should, I hope, make the issue more urgent. 

In fact, the federal government has launched an investigation into the winter planning undertaken by power providers. 

"This underscores the increasing frequency of significant extreme weather events and underscores the need for the electric sector to change its planning scenarios and preparations for extreme events," North American Electric Reliability Corporation CEO Jim Robb said in a Dec. 28 press release


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