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The Infamous Summer of 2022: North American Grids Tested

June 20, 2022
Much of the nation’s electric grid is stressed, and in many areas generation capacity is being stretched thin.

It looks like the summer of 2022 could be one of North America’s hottest summers in years. As I’m writing this column in mid-June, it isn’t officially summer yet, but about two-thirds of the country is experiencing record-breaking heat. Actual temperatures are over 100°F in parts of these regions and heat indices are over 100 °F in many more areas.

Much of the nation’s electric grid is stressed, and in many areas generation capacity is being stretched thin. On June 12, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) hit a record electricity demand of 74,917 MW. According to most news outlets, the state’s highest electricity demand usually occurs later in the year — sometime between mid-July and late August. The prior record of 74,280 MW was set on Aug. 12, 2019, according to ERCOT. The good news is that ERCOT had enough generation capacity to meet demand. The bad news, however, is that due to the triple digit temperatures, Oncor Electric, the electricity delivery company (wires company) serving north, central and west Texas, experienced some equipment failures that led to power outages.

According to Oncor, more than 3,100 customers in areas north of Dallas were impacted by these outages. Some of those customers were without power for more than 24 hours while Oncor investigated what caused the grid to fail and worked to get the power back on. While 3,100 customers is a small number when compared to Oncor’s roughly 10 million total customers, that number was plenty big enough to make the news and create a public relations problem for the utility, especially considering actual temperatures were 100 F or above that day.

Just a couple of days after Oncor’s outages, AEP Ohio was in the hot seat when more than 230,000 of its roughly 1.5 million customers in Ohio were without power after the utility intentionally shut down parts of the electric grid to protect equipment. The Ohio outages began after storms and high winds took down a portion of its transmission systems. The rerouting of power to bypass the downed lines along with extreme heat caused parts of AEP Ohio’s remaining power delivery systems to become overloaded and overheated. This forced the utility to shut down additional lines and equipment to prevent extensive damage to the system.

AEP spokesperson Scott Blake was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch saying, “When lines are damaged, they become sectionalized and other lines become stressed when the power load does not transfer easily.”

Those of you who read T&D World likely understand this statement and why it was necessary to shut down equipment. I suspect, however, much of the public, including the customers without power don’t understand it and, even more importantly, don’t care. The company did its best to keep customers informed via social media, its real-time outage map and other communication channels and I’m sure most customers appreciated this communication. However, with actual temperatures in the mid-90s, heat indices up to 107°F and outages expected to last 48 hours or longer in several areas, AEP could do little to negate the misery many customers endured. Some of those customers took to Twitter, harshly criticizing the utility and accusing it of cutting off power to the poorest demographics in Columbus, while keeping electricity flowing in the city’s “elite” areas. Some even said AEP Ohio would have “blood on its hands.”

These are just a couple of recent examples of what I believe are more things to come this summer. In fact, Dave Shadle, T&D World’s Senior Editor, recently wrote a piece about NERC’s 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment and its revelation that several issues could lead to energy shortfalls in about half of North America’s bulk power system regions this summer. You can read the full story “Are Today’s Energy Policies Hurting Bulk Power System Reliability?” on page 8 of this issue..

It's important to remember that NERC’s assessment was written before FERC issued its latest NOPR aimed at solving “backlogs” of renewable energy and storage in grid interconnection queues. Some believe this could intensify the challenges grid owners and operators already face and do little to solve generation capacity shortfalls.    

There’s no doubt North America’s transmission and distribution systems have been and will continue to be tested this summer. It would be great if they all pass with flying colors, but the incidents I’ve highlighted here reveal that’s not the case. I don’t have the answers to these challenges and issues, but I can offer you the opportunity to meet with those who tackle them daily and will reveal their insights.

On Oct. 5-7, T&D World’s inaugural Conference and Exhibition will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. We have many great speakers lined up who will talk about the technologies and processes that must be implemented to provide the resiliency that customers, regulators and policy makers, as well as utilities themselves expect. I predict this summer will reveal some weaknesses and strengths when it comes to grid operations and performance. Early October in Charlotte will be the perfect place to gather with peers to discuss not only what occurred in the summer of 2022, but more importantly the challenges future summers (and winters) will create and how to use lessons learned to meet those challenges head on. You can find the latest on our upcoming conference program as well as our registration page on the T&D World Conference and Exhibition website: events.tdworld.com. It’s time to make your travel plans to attend one of the first industry events following what is playing out to be the infamous summer of 2022.

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