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American Power Grid Faces Potentially Deadly Rolling Blackouts This Winter


Rolling blackouts in the United States might not be a question of “if” but of “when.” And the “when” might be coming a lot sooner than you probably think. 

Indeed, rolling blackouts loom ominously over the United States this very winter thanks to a “perfect storm” of factors, including our aging national power grid, extreme winter weather events, surging electricity demand due to extreme winter weather, domestic terrorist attacks from far-right groups, and a shift towards cleaner energy sources. 

In a comprehensive report, NERC, the top regulatory body in the nation, underscores the increasing risk of inadequate electricity supplies in most regions of the U.S. during extreme cold and heat periods over the next decade. The delayed construction of major wind and solar projects compounds the issue as power companies retire aging coal plants, creating a potential power shortfall.

The surge in power demand is further exacerbated by the technology-driven U.S. economy. NERC points to the substantial increase in electricity consumption from data centers, cryptocurrency mining, and the rising popularity of electric vehicles. These segments are growing at a faster pace than the corresponding expansion of electricity generation and transmission infrastructure, intensifying the risk of shortages.

NERC organization projects a 10% growth in electricity demand through 2032, while generation is estimated to expand by only 4% during the same period. Put simply, demand is outstripping supply by a factor of 150%, which could mean dark times from coast to coast – literally – as soon as this winter. 

Compounding the challenge is the planned closure of over 83,000 megawatts of fossil fuel and nuclear generation between this year and 2028. NERC highlights an additional 30,000 MW slated for closure, further contributing to the potential power deficit. So while demand is increasing, the old traditional (and, more to the point, reliable) supply sources are closing down, often being replaced with experimental energy production technologies that might not be up to snuff. 

Renewable resources, storage, electric vehicles, and customer-owned solar power, crucial for carbon emission reduction, are making power networks more intricate. NERC emphasizes the need for higher-speed, sophisticated control systems to manage the evolving complexity. Additionally, increased occurrences of extreme weather events disrupt traditional grid demand forecasting.

The geographical distribution of power risks is notable. Central and southern parts of the U.S. are likely to face power shortfalls, even during normal weather conditions. NERC designates the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and a six-state area in the lower Mississippi and Appalachian regions as “high risk.” Grid operators west of the Mississippi, including Texas, and those in New York State and New England are categorized as having “elevated” risk profiles.

The report underscores the necessity for increased coordination and collaboration among policymakers, regulators, owners, and operators. The findings come amid a broader debate over proposed EPA regulations aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from designated coal- and gas-fired generation plants, with stakeholders expressing differing views on the potential impact on power supply.

NERC advocates for changes in how long-distance power lines are sited and permitted, advocating for the creation of larger, stronger grid networks to mitigate extreme weather threats linked to climate change. It also calls for improved oversight of natural gas delivery to electricity generators during cold snaps, citing potential risks to reliability.

As the U.S. grapples with the evolving landscape of its energy infrastructure, NERC’s report signals the urgent need for comprehensive and collaborative efforts to ensure the reliability and resilience of the nation’s power grid.

Is your family getting ready for a potential power disruption? What are you doing to get ready? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Tags: , , Last modified: January 10, 2024