Grid Failure

Reluctant Realization

We have been set up to fail.

Ed Reid

The US federal government has set a goal of transitioning the US energy economy to a fossil-fuel-free, “all-electric everything” energy economy by 2050. This transition would require an approximate tripling of the US electricity grid by 2050 to accommodate the energy requirements of the residential, commercial, industrial, institutional and agricultural loads currently served directly by fossil fuels as well as anticipated electric load growth. The expense of converting existing fossil fuel end uses to electricity would be the responsibility of the end users.

Expanding electric generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure and maintaining reliable electric service is the responsibility of the electric utilities, under the oversight of the state utility commissions and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Most electric utilities coordinate generation and transmission planning through Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) or Independent System Operators (ISOs).

Utilities, their RTOs and ISOs, FERC and NERC have begun to realize that the transition sought by the Administration is a goal without a plan and that there is no reasonably achievable plan which would achieve the Administration’s goal on the desired schedule. The “canary in the coal mine” was apparently the realization that existing fossil-fueled generation is being retired faster than it is being replaced; and, that the Administration’s schedule for shuttering the remaining coal and natural gas generators is incompatible with the operation of a reliable electric grid, no less with accommodating the electric demand and consumption growth associated with the transition to “all-electric everything”.

The transition requires not only the addition of the intermittent renewable generation capacity to replace the existing fossil-fueled generation but also the addition of the intermittent renewable generation to replace the existing direct fossil-fueled end uses, plus storage to compensate for the intermittency of the renewable generation and the seasonal variation in renewable generation performance. The renewable generation must have the capacity to meet the demands of the grid under peak demand conditions, but also the capacity to recharge storage to assure that it is available to replace the output of the renewable generators when they are unavailable because of weather conditions or maintenance and repair.

The renewable generators are currently only willing to accept responsibility for providing power to the grid when weather conditions permit their operation. The renewable generators have taken the position that the responsibility for providing, operating and maintaining the storage necessary to compensate for their intermittency and seasonal capacity loss lies with the utilities and their RTOs and ISOs. That is not the most efficient approach to storage, nor is it the appropriate assignment of responsibility for providing reliable generation.

The utilities, RTOs and ISOs are realizing that they have been set up to fail; and, that they will be held responsible for that failure because they were told in advance what they had to do and on what schedule. The Administration will clearly accept no blame for the failure, despite the fact that it provided no plan for its success. The renewable generators will also accept no blame for the failure, since they aggressively offered the utilities vastly increased capacity and they cannot control the weather which controls their generation.

Anything is possible if someone else is responsible for achieving it.



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