Joseph leads the North America business of ev.energy, a global provider of electric vehicle (EV) charging software.
As summer approaches, some Americans might already be receiving warnings—as many often do this time of year—that warmer temperatures could also bring power outages if they’re not careful. Indeed, increasingly extreme weather and the early retirement of fossil fuel plants have come together to test the country’s power grids to their limits. And beyond the sheer inconvenience of power outages, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated that these outages could cost up to $70 billion a year.
In May 2022, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued its annual Summer Reliability Assessment, which serves as a crystal ball for how things could progress over the summer months. Not surprisingly, much of the North American power grid was flashing red in NERC’s assessment. The reasons included factors such as drought and below-normal snowfall, which meant less hydroelectric power in the western U.S., and new and unforeseen sources of electricity demand, such as cryptocurrency mining in Texas.
The reality of summer 2022 was a mixed bag. June heat waves across the Midwest and South led to power outages. Remarkably, California narrowly avoided blackouts during a 10-day heatwave that spanned late August and early September, despite the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services having to resort to sending residents emergency conservation alerts on September 6.
Lessons Learned From Summer 2022
Overall, the U.S. power grid fared better in 2022 than during the previous two summers, according to Utility Dive. Experts attribute this to a combination of less challenging weather conditions and the cumulation of several reliability-related improvements.
California is a particularly good case study of a grid; managed by the California Independent System Operator, the state managed to avoid summer blackouts due to several successful initiatives. After California experienced summer blackouts in 2020, roughly 3.9 gigawatts of battery storage came online. And in 2021, California implemented a new demand response incentive program that had more than 1.5 million customers enrolled by the summer of 2022.
In Texas, reforms on both the electricity supply and demand sides aim to prevent widespread blackouts like the one that pummeled the state in February 2021. On the supply side, 2.5 GW of wind, solar and battery storage signed interconnection agreements, which help by increasing the margin that Texas’ grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, can use for balancing purposes. On the demand side, the Texas Public Utility Commission approved a distributed energy pilot to unlock 80 megawatts of flexible resources.
In New England, the power grid remained stable throughout the summer. From my perspective, this was largely due to robust energy efficiency and scaled-up demand response programs. Between 2015 and 2020, New England states invested $5.8 billion in energy efficiency programs; consequently, the New England grid operator now enjoys a demand-size flexibility portfolio that makes up 20% of the system’s overall capacity.
Three Steps To Help Prevent Summer Blackouts
The U.S. power grid is undergoing a once-in-a-generation transformation as new sources of power from renewables come online at the same time as unprecedented new sources of demand from vehicle and building electrification. This is happening all while climate change produces increasingly extreme weather that continues to push the grid to its breaking point.
However, summer blackouts need not be an inconvenient part of life that Americans must cope with. Through my experience working in the electric vehicle charging space, below are three steps I believe business leaders at energy companies across the country can consider taking to help shore up the power grid this summer.
Engage energy consumers via mobile.
Americans spend one-third of their waking hours on their mobile devices, according to the “State of Mobile in 2022” report by data.ai. So, I believe when energy conservation efforts are needed, the most effective campaigns will make use of mobile apps and text messages. This will be especially important for businesses that manufacture high-energy devices like air conditioners and thermostats. During California’s Labor Day 2022 heat wave, for example, text messages were sent to 27 million cell phones in areas of high demand, and electricity use dropped more than 2,000 MW just minutes after, the New York Times reported.
Provide energy consumers with a way to opt in and out of conservation events.
Everyday consumers will only participate in demand-response programs if they’re given the freedom to opt out of energy conservation events when needed. Businesses should combine transparent communication with an easy way for energy consumers to say “no thanks.”
Consider investing in power transmission lines.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act released $65 billion in funding for new, high-voltage power transmission lines to expand renewable energy. As major renewable developers commit to spending more than $4 billion to build an offshore wind supply chain on the U.S. east coast, I believe there’s a major opportunity for businesses to come to the table and unlock funding to transmit that power to Midwestern states, which could help increase the region’s summertime operating reserves.
Rolling blackouts have become synonymous with summer in certain parts of the country, but they don’t have to be. States like California and Texas are beginning to implement lessons from past disruptive events, with a few common initiatives showing promising signs of success. With new government and private funds available, energy companies can leverage smart consumer engagement strategies to reduce demand before grids reach their breaking point.
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