Highly Centralized Eastern Interconnect Showing More Signs of Brittleness in Cold

The Eastern Interconnect, the inter-connected grid system that ties together all of the US and Canada east of the Rockies, except for most of Texas, is showing all the danger signs of hyper-centralization and dependence on high voltage transmission.  Back in early January, the first big cold snap caused PJM Interconnection to set a new winter peak load record and resulted in appeals to customers to reduce their electrical use.

Now we have this account of the multiple stresses that this winter’s cold weather is putting on our brittle electric grid.

An unprecedented 50,000 megawatts of power plant outages occurred east of the Rockies during last week’s cold snap, which also badly crimped natural gas delivery systems in key pockets of the country, federal and industry watchdog officials reported Thursday in analyses that raise more questions about reliability of the U.S. power grid as it becomes increasingly dependent on gas-fired generation.

The startling power plant outage data-which far exceeded outages seen in previous winter cold waves-were revealed by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), the nation grid reliability watchdog, at a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meeting.

FERC staff said the severe weather also significantly disrupted gas delivery by interstate pipelines and local distribution companies, and that cold temperatures also crimped gas production in some areas, including the Marcellus Shale.

Generally, the NERC and FERC reports described a series of extraordinary actions by grid operators, gas and electric utilities and pipeline operators that avoided widespread cuts in gas or power supplies for customers.

The new dependence of US electrical generation on natural gas has raised new threats to both electrical and natural gas systems as each system becomes more dependent on the other.  The problem is especially dangerous at winter electrical peak, because natural gas is also used for direct home and business heating.  Demand for both gas and electricity is at its highest for both power sources at the same time in extremely cold weather.  Shortages of gas cause shortages of electricity.  We saw this clearly last winter in New England.

As The Energy Daily notes, this problem has spread to PJM this year.

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller said “early numbers” suggest that 9,000 MW of capacity in PJM was unable to get sufficient gas during the cold snap. That is somewhat surprising because other regions of the country, namely New England, are thought to be more exposed to reliability problems due to a growing dependence on gas for both power generation and heating.

FERC staff said New England was spared problems during the cold snap because temperatures there were actually “well below their all time winter peak,” requiring no emergency procedures.

Centralization and fossil fuel dependence to not promote electrical system reliability.  But you already knew that because you read The Power Line.

2 thoughts on “Highly Centralized Eastern Interconnect Showing More Signs of Brittleness in Cold

  1. From the looks of things with the fragile interconnection situation it should behoove the power companies to invent a way to remove snow and ice from solar panels in order to offset peak, provide reliable clean renewable power at near peak load, and provide distributed power which is local power and consumed where its needed most. They should pay to develope and give credit to those who have already invested in distributed generation which has only one drawback in winter, snow and ice followed by brilliant usually wasted sunshine on the roof systems.

    • “Wasted sunshine.” Yes, snow on solar panels is a problem. But think of all that other sunshine that is going waste in the US even on warm days. We need more panels everywhere to catch all that wasted sunshine that’s coming down all the time.

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