One of the things that keeps me up at night is the reliability of the grid. There are multiple factors that seem to be leading to the decline of electric grid reliability in the U.S., and this trend is worrisome. There is clearly a negative correlation between reliability and the efficiency and effectiveness of any utility, and a grid of questionable reliability makes emergency preparedness more difficult.
Why is Electric Grid Reliability Declining?
In my mind there are 5 top reasons why electric grid reliability must be on every regulator’s mind. These are:
- The dramatic shift occurring in the mix of generation assets – including the increase in renewables and natural gas, and the decline of coal (currently 33% of all electricity in the U.S.) and nuclear (currently 20% of all electricity in the U.S.).
- The reality that weather patterns are becoming increasingly volatile thanks to global warming.
- The supply squeeze that is occurring due to more stringent regulations and higher plant construction costs.
- The perpetually increasing level of demand (the U.S. population increases by 2 million people every year).
- The increasing risk of terrorism and system hacking.
The good news is that I am not the only person who is aware of these harsh realities. Energy Secretary Risk Perry recently announced a review of the stability of the grid, and I applaud this. Unfortunately, this is not a quick fix. It really is analogous to a ticking time bomb; something bad is definitely going to happen, the only question is when and how severe. I’m sure we will find out.
In the meantime, my conclusion is that emergency planning and preparedness is more important now than ever before. Therefore, it is imperative for electric utilities of all shapes and sizes to ensure that emergency plans are completely buttoned up, and that all “storm” employees are effectively trained and extremely well-versed in terms of emergency processes.