A large portion of North America is at risk of insufficient energy supplies during peak winter conditions this year, U.S. and Canadian regulators at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, said on Thursday.
In its 2022-2023 winter reliability assessment, regulators said the reliability concerns are driven by higher peak demand projections and inadequate generator weatherization, as well as low fuel supply risks and limitations to natural gas infrastructure.
The problems vary by region, but one common theme is a lack of energy sources that will be reliable when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
“Our emerging renewable fleet is fully dependent on how sunny or how windy it is,” John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, told reporters Thursday.
“We don’t have large-scale storage solutions [yet] — so as we transition our system from predominantly coal, nuclear, and gas generation to more renewable and weather-dependent resources, we need to ensure reliability, even on the days when the weather isn’t quite cooperating,” he said.
As a whole, energy emergencies in more severe conditions are “more likely” this winter due to shrinking capacity and shrinking reserve margins, NERC officials told reporters on a call Thursday.
In the United States, risks are elevated in areas including Texas, the Midwest, and the Northeast.
In Texas, peak power demand has increased by more than 7% since last winter, causing lower reserve margins. The state’s grid — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT — is also very sensitive to extreme temperatures because it lacks interconnections with other grids, NERC said, meaning it has limited ability to import power from other regions in extreme weather.
Concerns are particularly high in the Midwest, regulators said. Reserve margins for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, have fallen by 5% from last year due largely to retirements of thermal, nuclear, and coal-fired generators and insufficient replacement capacity to meet increasing demand.
In the Midwest, “energy emergencies are likely in extreme conditions,” said Mark Olson, NERC’s senior engineer of reliability assessments.
Wind generation performance will also be a key factor for the region, Olson said. High wind generation can help alleviate some concerns, while a low generation scenario would force more generators offline.
In New England, the problem is a shortage of home heating oil. Distillate inventories in the Northeast have fallen 44% compared to the same point last year.
The limited inventory has forced wholesalers to ration supplies and sent prices climbing — up 65% this October compared to last year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.