Energy experts sound the alarm about the US electric grid: ‘It is not designed to withstand the effects of climate change’


As temperatures rise before forecasters say it will be a Hotter than normal summerElectricity experts and officials warn countries It may not have enough energy To meet demand in the coming months. Also, many of the country’s network operators do not take climate change into account in their planning, even as severe weather increases in frequency and intensity.

All this suggests that more blackouts are on the way, not only this summer but in the coming years as well.

Energy operators in the central United States, in their area summer readiness report, already predicted “insufficient fixed resources to cover the forecast of peak summer”. This assessment took into account historical weather and the latest NOAA forecast that predicts more severe weather this summer.

But energy experts tell CNN that some power grid operators are not thinking about how the climate crisis will change weather — including frequent extreme events — and it’s a problem If the intent is to build a reliable power grid.

“The reality is that the electricity system is old and a lot of the infrastructure was built before we started thinking about climate change,” said Romani Webb, a researcher at the Sabine Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “It is not designed to withstand the effects of climate change.”

Webb says that many power grid operators use historical weather to make investment decisions, rather than riskier climate forecasts, simply because they want to avoid the potential financial loss of investing in what might happen versus what actually happened. She said it’s a wrong approach and makes the network vulnerable.

“We’ve seen a reluctance on the part of many utilities to address climate change in their planning processes because they say the science about climate change is very uncertain,” Webb said. “The truth is we know that climate change is happening, we know its impact in terms of extreme heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, and we know that all of these things affect the electricity system, so ignoring those effects only makes the problems worse.”

early heat wave Caused six offline power plants to fall in Texas advance this month. Residents were asked to limit electricity use, keep thermostats at 78 degrees or higher and avoid using large appliances at peak times. The Texas Electrical Reliability Council, or ERCOT, said in its seasonal reliability report that the state’s power grid is geared for summer and has “enough” power for “normal” summer conditions, based on average weather from 2006 to 2020.

But NOAA released recently summer forecast Forecasts above average temperatures for each county in the country.

“We continue to design and locate facilities based on historical weather patterns that we know in an era of climate change is not a good alternative for future conditions,” Webb told CNN.

When an ERCOT spokesperson was asked if the agency is creating a blind spot for itself by not calculating severe weather forecasts, an ERCOT spokesperson told CNN that the report “uses a scenario approach to illustrate a range of resource adequacy outcomes based on severe system conditions, including some severe weather. scenarios.”

The North American Electrical Reliability Corporation, or NERC — a regulatory authority that oversees the health of the nation’s electrical infrastructure — has less optimistic forecasts.

In a recent seasonal reliability report, NERC put Texas at “elevated risk” for a blackout this summer. It also reported that while much of the nation will have adequate electricity this summer, many markets are at risk of an energy emergency.

California network operators in the Summer Reliability Report also based their readiness analysis on “the last 20 years of historical weather data.” The report also notes that the assessment “does not fully reflect the load and supply uncertainties caused by climate change.”

Exacerbation of the problem of supply and demand in the United States drought: NERC told CNN there was a 2% loss in reliable hydropower from the country Energy-producing dams. Add to that the rapid retirement of many coal-fired power plants – just about everything from toothbrushes to cars is now electric. Energy experts say adding more renewables to the mix will have the dual effect of reducing climate change that leads to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as increasing the country’s energy supply.

One Chicago neighborhood is already making plans for how to maintain lighting, air conditioning and heating when the larger network fails.

In the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, solar panels are dotted on the roof of a public housing complex. A short drive away, a giant battery stores energy from solar panels as well as natural gas generators, creating a small grid. The state energy company, Commonwealth Edison, works with community members to make neighborhood energy independent.

“Without power, we’re talking about potentially life-threatening situations, so this fine network provides those backups to be able to deliver power even when [main] “The grid doesn’t exist,” said Paul Pabst, an engineer at Commonwealth Edison.

The project is awaiting approval but once it is up and running, the microgrid can connect and share power with the main grid. In the event of a power outage, it can be disconnected and operated independently, utilizing the stored battery power to power homes, police station and hospital in the area for four hours.

Yami Newell is a Bronzeville resident and energy advocate. I witnessed the cascading effects of an unreliable power grid in Chicago, a place no stranger to weather-related interruptions from both extreme cold and extreme heat. Losing energy in a heat wave can lead to a dangerous health situation, and for families with a fixed income, losing all the food in their fridge can be financially devastating.

“The energy crisis can turn into a public health crisis,” Newell told CNN. “It could become a food crisis.”

As communities look for innovative ways to build a more resilient network, Bronzeville is one possible blueprint. Until countries build a more resilient power grid, climate change will force energy companies to continue taking emergency actions, such as requiring people to reduce electricity use or forced blackouts to manage the grid when supply cannot meet demand.