There is a small chance that rolling blackouts will be needed to manage the New England electric grid this summer, but the risk for the region appears to be far less than it is for the drought-stricken western United States.
The regional grid operator ISO-New England and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, both said yesterday that the region should have enough electric generation to meet high demand in what is expected to be a hot summer.
But very extreme weather — like extended heat waves or drought — could challenge the system, leading to calls for conservation, or in the most extreme cases, limited blackouts.
“Climate change has caused weather to become more volatile and less predictable, increasing the potential for system operators to resort to these actions,” ISO said in a release.
ISO-New England said in a news release that it expects more than 31,000 megawatts worth of generating capacity to be available, and said it expected above-average summer weather – like an extended heat wave – could push demand up to 26,416 megawatts. Last summer’s peak usage for a single day was 25,801 megawatts, the ISO said.
The ISO said that above average heat and humidity could potentially lead to “tight supply margins,” which could push the grid operator to try to import power from neighboring regions or ask businesses and residents to voluntarily conserve energy.
In the most severe events – where none of the many, less severe balancing measures that ISO would try first work, like voluntary power conservation and importing power – it may need to call for controlled power outages to protect the overall grid, the ISO said.
ISO spokesman Matt Kakley said there are many variables that would come into play before outages were required, but unprecedented weather conditions could pose a challenge if they caused demand to reach unexpected levels.
“We are not anticipating these conditions [that would lead to outages],” Kakley said. “We expect to have the resources needed to meet demand, and that [other procedures] would be able to mitigate any contingencies.”
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation warned that grids covering most of the west and midwest of the U.S. were at elevated or high risk of blackouts this summer, especially in extreme weather including strong storms or heat waves.
But NERC said New England and most of the eastern U.S. should have enough capacity to meet demand this summer, except in the most severe cases.
Summer is already the time when New England residents use the most electricity, as they power up air conditioners to keep cool. So higher than normal temperatures will mean customers are using more electricity, which can be a major issue when that heat wave spreads across an entire region.
NERC has put more emphasis on those extreme weather scenarios than it did in previous forecasts.
“What we all learned in recent history is that extreme doesn’t mean rare,” NERC Director of Reliability Assessment John Moura recently told reporters.
While New England is forecasted to have above-average temperatures this summer, it shouldn’t face the challenges with natural gas supply that left both NERC and ISO-New England to raise alarms about the grid potentially not being able to meet demand last winter.
“One of the things about summer is, there’s a lot more excess capacity on the pipelines because [natural gas] is not being used for residential heating,” Moura said. “So summer isn’t too much of a concern.”