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Grid Operations - Prepare for the Worst or Hope for the Best?

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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Late last week, the National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for five states - California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of Colorado. For the first day of summer, temperatures in many areas had already exceeded 100 degrees.  “One of the biggest lessons we have learned is how unpredictable fire dangers and climate both are, and we’re still grappling somewhat with how to prepare for the unknowable,” said regulator Clifford Rechtschaffen of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Extreme weather has been the cause of past and present problems for the grid.  California has invested $200 million in clean energy microgrids and $600 million in self-generation back-up power systems for individual customers in high-risk fire areas.  CAISO Chair Angelina Galiteva commented, “These are valuable inputs to the grid that are decarbonized, digitized and decentralized because we want to be able to isolate areas for both public safety and reliability concerns.” 

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Texas is still struggling to meet demand in record temperatures.  The spike in demand coupled with a deficit in generation capacity resulted in more than 12,000 megawatts of power loss. ERCOT, still operating independently, urged Texans to cut down on their electricity usage voluntarily.   So far, California power grid operators have been able to keep the lights on but also found it necessary to issue a "flex alert.”  The heat wave covered the Midwest and weather services issued advisories for Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.  Facing their own heatwave, New Mexico’s utility, PNM says its electrical grid is more stable than the grid in Texas.  This is largely due to their grid being connected to a network.  “That means that all utilities that are part of that system, we are electrically tied together, which allows us to buy and sell energy to meet customer demands as those demands fluctuate,” said Meaghan Cavanaugh with PNM.   The utility acknowledges their grid is not invincible but there are no overload concerns right now.  Speaking of concerns, Puerto Rico’s damaged and outdated grid is in dire need of repair.  The islands of Puerto Rico, St. John and St. Thomas experienced major outages just days ago.  Despite the efforts of San-Juan based company, LUMA Energy and Quanta Services taking over transmission and distribution operations, businesses and residents were without power.  The recent outages have severely weakened confidence in the private operator.  

The lessons learned point to modernization and microgrids. In fact, more and more utilities are doing their best to prepare for the unexpected in order to maintain resiliency.  How is your utility prepping the grid for the ‘unknowable’ and what lessons have you learned in the past year? 

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