Power Grid Operators Warn of Potential Electricity Shortages Amid Transition to Clean Energy

Power Grid Operators Warn of Potential Electricity Shortages Amid Transition to Clean Energy
Wind turbines are viewed at a wind farm in Colorado City, Texas, on Jan. 21, 2016. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts

Power grid operators from across the United States have warned that they are struggling to keep up with the demand for electricity as they attempt to transition to cleaner energy sources, meaning that some parts of the country could see blackouts during the summer.

"I am concerned about it," Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) Chief Executive John Bear told the The Wall Street Journal on Sunday. "As we move forward, we need to know that when you put a solar panel or a wind turbine up, it’s not the same as a thermal resource."

California state's grid operator told WSJ on Friday that it expects to see a shortfall in supplies this summer, driven by extreme heat, wildfires, and delays in bringing new power sources online.

Meanwhile, MISO, an independent, not-for-profit organization that delivers power to much of the Midwest, warned last month that it would likely need increased imports and potentially emergency resources if it were to be able to meet demand at the peak of the summer.

The organization noted that the summer peak forecast is 124 GW with 119 GW of projected regularly available generation within MISO.

"The seasonal assessment aligns with the cleared resources identified in the 2022–2023 Planning Resource Auction, which indicated capacity shortfalls in both the north and central regions of MISO and leaving those areas at increased risk of temporary, controlled outages to preserve the integrity of the bulk electric system," said JT Smith, executive director of market operations at MISO.

Elsewhere in Texas, the grid operator warned WSJ of potential short supplies and tight conditions amid a heatwave that's currently blanketing the state and is expected to last into next week.

"Every market around the world is trying to deal with the same issue," Brad Jones, the interim chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told WSJ. "We’re all trying to find ways to utilize as much of our renewable resources as possible … and at the same time make sure that we have enough dispatchable generation to manage reliability."

The potential risk of shortages comes as traditional power plants are being moved offline faster than they are being replaced by more green, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar farms, the latter of which are also unable to generate power 24/7 and thus have to store some of their energy in batteries to be used at a later date.

While more optimized battery storage is currently being developed, there is growing fear among companies that it isn't happening fast enough to beat the pace at which traditional plants fueled by coal and natural gas are being retired.

The situation is being further exacerbated by ongoing supply chain issues since the COVID-19 pandemic and sky-high inflation levels.

Meanwhile, aging power grids which, along with an increase in severe weather events, have already led to multiple power outages in recent years in places such as Texas.

In response to the increased outages, legislation known as Senate Bill 3 was passed by the Texas House early in 2020 relating to the preparation, prevention, and response to weather emergencies and power outages, and mandates that power plants prepare for extreme weather to minimize the risk of blackouts and other issues.

However, with a move to more cleaner energy sources in line with the Biden administration's effort to tackle climate change, power grids are likely to be under increased pressure in the coming years meaning the risks of outages could be heightened.

"We need to make sure that we have sufficient new resources in place and operational before we let some of these retirements go," Mark Rothleder, the CEO of the California Independent System Operator, told WSJ. "Otherwise, we are putting ourselves potentially at risk of having insufficient capacity."