By Paul Wesslund
December 2022

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, also known as NERC, recently graded the nation’s grid on reliability. The report revealed the electric grid is highly reliable and continues to improve despite emerging challenges that may stress it in the coming years.

NERC’s “2022 State of Reliability” reports that the network of power plants, transmission lines, and associated equipment — often referred to as the bulk power system or BPS — repeatedly improved its performance over the last 6 years. That trend comes despite the challenges of adding more energy generated from renewable sources and facing increasingly extreme weather patterns.

The impact of widespread, extreme weather events has underscored the need to plan for extreme scenarios related to resource adequacy and energy supply. Spurred by federal policies and market conditions, a drastic decline in available power generation resources has made complex electric systems more difficult to balance. As the nation’s energy mix evolves and flexible generation (from sources that are fuel-assured, weatherized and dispatchable) decreases, the risk of energy shortfalls is more likely.

Despite these challenges that lie ahead, when it comes to measuring grid reliability, the year 2021 saw improvement in both the year-over-year and 5-year average.

To understand the NERC report, it helps to know the system that delivers your electricity is often described as the most complex machine in the world. The U.S. bulk power system is made up of more than 7,300 power plants and nearly 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines. This system is responsible for delivering the majority of electricity to local utilities and their millions of miles of lower-voltage lines that ultimately connect homes, businesses and other energy consumers to the electric grid.

The electricity that the bulk power system carries to you must be generated at the exact same time as you flip the switch to use it. If that sounds like a mind-boggling job of high-tech coordination, it is. And the national grid does it every second of every day.

Cooperative Energy is a generation and transmission cooperative that provides power to 11 Mississippi distribution electric cooperatives.

Cooperative Energy plans well into the future, forecasting our members’ future energy needs and then developing plans to serve those needs.

“These plans are developed to ensure compliance with all regulatory demands while continuing to meet our obligation to provide power that is reliable, affordable, and responsible, said Jeff C. Bowman, president and CEO of Cooperative Energy.

“As a member-owned and member-governed utility, our plans also incorporate member guidance on issues such as investments in renewable energy sources or conventional energy sources.”

“Beginning in early 2023, our newly repowered R.D. Morrow, Sr. Generating Station will be another major step in the right direction toward continuing our mission of energy reliability. The 550 megawatt (MW) natural gas-fired plant will provide Mississippians with reliable electricity that is flexible, meaning it can help fill in the gaps when renewable sources of power are unavailable or inadequate, and electricity that is not dependent on the weather,” Bowman said.

Despite the grid’s complexity and the widely reported threats like severe weather and cyberattacks, NERC says the grid continues to perform in a highly reliable and resilient manner overall, with year-over-year improvement, demonstrating the success of actions taken by the energy industry.

Here are a couple of the major challenges the electric sector is facing — and NERC’s recommendations for facing these challenges head-on.

Extreme Weather

Given the frequency and intensity of severe weather that affects electric operations, NERC recommends a shift in focus from just making sure there’s ample energy supply to putting measures in place to withstand, adapt, protect against and recover from the impacts of extreme weather events.

Much of the NERC assessment focuses on the February 2021 event in Texas when six days of below-freezing temperatures left some people without power for as many as four days. NERC advises steps to provide more transmission connections across the country so power can be more easily shared. NERC also sets plans to better prepare equipment for cold weather—as many generating units failed in the freezing temperatures.

Beefing Up Cybersecurity

Electric utilities repelled threats from what NERC called “increasingly bold cyber criminals” and referred to a relatively new term for using the internet for political and social protest, “hactivism.” NERC has established the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center that gathers information about the latest cyber threats and advises utilities about safeguards to take that supplement existing cybersecurity programs.

Today’s energy landscape is wide-ranging and rapidly changing, yet the U.S. electric grid continues to keep power flowing. Mississippi’s electric cooperatives are working closely with grid operators to provide the dependable electricity you rely on every minute of every day.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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Category: News & Notes

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