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Energy Crisis: Blackouts expected this summer across the US due to extreme temperatures and drought

US power grid regulator NERC is warning of rolling electricity blackouts in parts of the US as extreme temperatures and drought stress the power grid.

Blackouts expected this summer across the US
Future PublishingGetty

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a regulating authority that oversees the health of the nation’s electrical infrastructure released a sobering report on the state of the US power grid going into the summer. Ongoing drought in parts of the nation and heatwaves “could require system operators to use emergency procedures, up to and including temporary manual load shedding,” better known as rolling blackouts.

The NERC’s 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment indicated that large swaths of the country are at elevated risk, with the Upper Midwest and Central South at high risk. Speaking to CBS MoneyWatch John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, said “This is probably one of the grimmest pictures we’ve painted in a while.”

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Which parts of the US could face blackouts?

The most severely affected areas will be in the Upper Midwest and in the Central South along the Mississippi River. The latter is a result of damage to a section of a transmission line that has yet to be fixed which carries power to parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. However, restoration work is expected to be completed at the end of June 2022.

The chance of rolling blackouts in the Midwest, including large sections of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, is due to an over 2 percent reduction in generation capacity compared to the summer of 2021. Midwesterners don’t need to panic though. Last year’s report warned that almost 40 percent of the US population was at risk of blackouts but most of the grid went unaffected as reported by Bloomberg.

Almost the entire Western US at high risk of blackouts

Ongoing drought in the Western US will reduce the power production capacity of hydroelectric dams and power output generators. Drought conservation measures have been implemented in the reservoir system on the Missouri River due to lower water levels. This could affect hydro generators output and impact operations of gas, coal or nuclear plants that pull water from the river for cooling.

A similar situation will be experienced in the Western US where below-normal snowpack means less water filling up the reservoirs used by the hydro generators. The dry conditions will also create a higher risk of wildfires, especially in late summer. Smoke from wildfires could have the knock-on effect of blotting out sunlight that is used by solar panels.

Concerns of capacity shortfalls in Texas ease for normal peak demand

Texas is considered at elevated risk for rolling blackouts this summer but with the addition of wind and solar output capacity anticipated reserve margins have been raised easing concerns of shortfalls during normal peaks. But the state could be prone to widespread heat events that could be prolonged due to the ongoing drought. A cascade of problems like a combination of power plants going off line, low wind and extreme peak demand could force grid operators to impose rolling blackouts.

Officials that oversee the grid are optimist though. Speaking to the press they expressed confidence that power supply would be reliable despite the predictions of record demand this summer. They cited reforms made after the severe winter storms in February 2021 which resulted in over 200 deaths as people struggle to heat their homes.

The weekend before officials touted the reliability of the power supply, ERCOT, the state’s main power grid operator, called on Texans to restrict air conditioning and appliance use after six power facilities “tripped off”.