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Pandemic could raise issues for summer load, NERC says in assessment

image credit: Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
DW Keefer's picture
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DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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  • Jun 4, 2020

NERC’s 2020 Summer Reliability Assessment finds that projected resources are at or above the levels needed to satisfy summer peak demand under anticipated weather in nearly all assessment areas.

The assessment said, however, that the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has led to heightened uncertainty in demand projections, has disrupted preparation (including preventative maintenance, supply stocking and training) for the summer peak operating season, and threatens the health and safety of critical industry workforce.

Anticipated reserve margins were based on pre-pandemic demand forecasts and anticipated resources. NERC said it indicate that the assessment areas are prepared to meet potential peak demand with or without pandemic-related demand reductions. NERC also said it did not identify any "specific threat or degradation" to the reliable operation of the bulk power system for the spring timeframe.

However, it said that the typical extensive pre-season preparation efforts by generator and transmission owners and operators "have been impinged" by the global pandemic, with many deferring or canceling pre-summer maintenance. Monitoring the progress of ongoing efforts to prepare staff and equipment for summer will be important to ensuring the availability of anticipated resources to meet electricity demand, NERC said.

NERC reports that as a result of millions of people staying at home, many areas are reporting more gradual and below-normal demand ramps during morning hours and lower evening demand.

Changes like these to longstanding patterns can affect the day-ahead demand forecasts that grid operators use as they work to ensure that enough power plants are available to meet expected demand for each hour of the day.

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Eric Van Orden's picture
Eric Van Orden on Jun 11, 2020

I assumed that we'd see much more residential load this summer. Generally, March and April, when many of us were "sheltering in place", showed increased morning consumption and afternoon peaks. But, those were shoulder months. Now the heat is coming across the US and I suspect air conditioning will start earlier and continue longer throughout the day. 

Frank Monforte, of Itron, presented and speculated about load/demand during this week's Utility Analytics Summit. Here is the recording - There is still a lot of uncertainty. But, I think he was suggesting that the increased distributed home cooling might make up for any reduced load from commercial and industrial operations. And, if he wasn't saying it, I'll put it out there as a possibility if the economy starts heading to pre-COVID levels. 

NERC has insights into the bulk system for supply. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the spring preparation for summer energy supply was disrupted by COVID. Yet, I still expect utilities to step up to reliably keep us cool this summer. With the increasing risk of wildfires and larger storms, it seems that mother nature is increasingly a risk for utilities. As we look to learn from this and mitigate risks in the future, could relying on customers to better align load and demand (i.e. demand response and flexible load) be even more important?

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