21st July 2024

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As we head into October, we go away behind a summer time of utmost warmth throughout the USA, and with it, you can virtually hear the electrical energy sector breathe a collective sigh of aid.

This summer time, the USA endured the 2 warmest months ever recorded, but the system held. Because the summer time kicked off, grid screens rang alarm bells about looming blackouts, however aside from outages associated to wildfires in Hawaii and a hurricane within the Southeast, there have been no main interruptions. Regardless of years of messages making an attempt to boost doubts about whether or not renewables have a spot in grid reliability, there’s little doubt now that wind and solar energy and battery storage held their very own this summer time.

Whereas it’s encouraging that the ability stayed on, specialists agree that the grid was pushed to its restrict, and regularly rising warmth and excessive climate throughout summer time imply we have to preserve strengthening and increasing the grid. Utilities, grid managers, and policymakers who help the transition to cleaner, extra dependable, more cost effective renewable energy should redouble their efforts as bouts of utmost climate linked to local weather change turn out to be extra frequent. Whereas fossil gasoline supporters will proceed responsible renewables for all of the system’s woes, the constructive impacts of renewable energy had been on full show throughout the nation.

Document warmth, file demand

There was no escaping the acute warmth this summer time. It was notably brutal in Texas, the place the capital, Austin, hit triple-digit temperatures for 34 straight days. Dallas recorded record-high warmth for 3 consecutive days whereas El Paso noticed 56 triple-digit days, the third most in its historical past. From June 27 to August 12, Texas set 10 all-time peak energy demand data, in keeping with knowledge from ERCOT (Electrical Reliability Council of Texas), which manages 90 % of the state’s electrical load.

The Lone Star State was no outlier. Scorching temperatures lined a lot of the Southeast in August earlier than creeping into the Midwest and Northeast. The typical temperature throughout the contiguous United States in August was 74.four levels Fahrenheit — 2.three levels above common — which clocks in because the ninth warmest within the nation’s 129 years of recordkeeping. Globally, the summer time of 2023 was the most well liked on file, in keeping with European Union’s Local weather Change Service.

These excessive temperatures led to file hundreds throughout the nation. In late August, Southwest Energy Pool (SPP), the grid supervisor for utilities and transmission corporations throughout 17 states within the central United States, noticed file hundreds on three consecutive days.

Regardless of circumstances that many believed would trigger it to buckle and provides out, the grid held up. A part of that success may be attributed to emergency demand response. In Texas, for instance, surging energy demand prompted a number of calls from ERCOT to prospects to cut back their vitality use, together with through the first week of September amid scorching warmth. Nonetheless, the state averted widespread blackouts.

However emergency actions and last-minute energy-saving measures from prospects shouldn’t be the idea for grid reliability. To that finish, we have to proceed rising the capability of grid sources to arrange for more and more scorching summers. And this summer time confirmed the brand new capability we’ve already constructed is delivering on reliability.

Renewables on the rise

Clear vitality sources proceed to ramp up (pun meant) to supply the dependable, inexpensive, clear service all of us deserve. Firstly of August, the USA had about 237,000 megawatts of utility-scale photo voltaic, wind, and battery storage on-line. This accounted for 15.1 % of electrical energy generated, up from 12 % on the identical time a 12 months prior, in keeping with the American Clear Energy Affiliation. Of that, 10,000 megawatts had been added within the first half of 2023.

Texas produces extra wind energy than some other state, however this summer time, it was photo voltaic that stole the present. The state produced twice as a lot solar energy as final 12 months, in keeping with Dr. Joshua Rhodes, a analysis scientist with the Webber Vitality Group on the College of Texas. On August 10, wind and photo voltaic vitality generated sufficient energy to fulfill 25 % of demand through the peak hour of utilization, in keeping with ERCOT.

Actually, all U.S. energy grids set photo voltaic era data this summer time, in keeping with Grid Standing, an internet site that tracks grids in actual time. And that development is about to proceed. A brand new report from the Photo voltaic Vitality Industries Affiliation estimates that 32 gigawatts of extra photo voltaic capability might be added in 2023, representing 52 % development from 2022.

Wind additionally performed its half in preserving the air conditioners buzzing. In late August, at SPP, renewables (principally wind) contributed 10 to 20 % of energy era at peak occasions. Grid operators in California and within the central United States additionally set renewable vitality data.

The recipe for fulfillment

A number of components got here collectively to stop a summer time of utmost warmth from turning into the form of life-threatening catastrophe we’ve seen when air conditioners go silent throughout warmth waves:

  • Extra diversification of vitality sources, together with rising quantities of wind and photo voltaic
  • Higher planning and preparedness
  • Increased ranges of hydroelectric energy as a consequence of heavy winter rain and snow within the West
  • Demand response packages that provide shoppers rebates to ease up on vitality use through the hottest elements of the day

Emergency demand response shouldn’t be the north star for grid reliability, and this summer time highlights proactive demand administration as a crucial technique. Grid operators and utilities ought to strengthen packages that incentivize diminished and extra environment friendly vitality use and encourage the adoption of versatile demand sources like electrical autos and good properties.

Whereas spectacular, the sheer quantity of recent photo voltaic and wind energy alone is just a part of the image. Renewable vitality is offering extra resilient, predictable provide, and storage is extending the worth these sources provide previous the hours when the solar is shining.

Extra options are wanted, however many are at our disposal. We’d like a big build-out of high-voltage interregional transmission to get that new energy the place it must go, notably throughout excessive climate. Utility planners and policymakers must make it a precedence to construct new transmission strains that interconnect utility areas and ship energy throughout larger distances. The grid must be larger than any excessive climate sample. In July, the Federal Vitality Regulatory Fee took an important first step towards rushing up the connection of recent renewable energy to grids throughout the nation, but it surely nonetheless must finalize a robust regional transmission planning rule and begin a rule to make sure robust interregional transmission.

The lesson from the summer time of 2023 could also be that, whereas the sky isn’t falling, we can’t let our guard down. We have to speed up efforts to combine extra renewable vitality and storage sources into the grid, encourage vitality effectivity and demand response, and improve and broaden the transmission grid, and to do all of it whereas defending communities and ecosystems which have traditionally — and disproportionately — been negatively impacted by vitality growth.

By Christy Walsh. Republished from NRDC.


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