The “blizzard of the century”, a new “stress test” of the American electricity grid

The “blizzard of the century”, a new “stress test” of the American electricity grid

Posted Dec 27 2022 at 9:22 am

In record time, the number of Americans without power has plummeted. Three days after the peak of the winter storm that hit the country, there were only a few tens of thousands of homes without power on Tuesday, compared to 1.6 million at the height of the cold snap, according to statements from The toll of the “blizzard of the century” is still heavy, with around fifty victims counted Monday evening, half of them in northwestern New York State, who died of cold or in road accidents.

Almost two years after the surprise cold snap that paralyzed Texas and killed more than 200 people, the United States has experienced a new “stress test” of its energy infrastructure in recent days. In early December, PJM, which serves 65 million customers in the northeastern United States, assured that it would be able to get through the winter peak, with 35% more capacity than the anticipated peak consumption. The network manager explained above all that he had learned some lessons from “recent extreme weather events”, requiring this year “for the first time that producers provide verification of the cold weather operating temperature limit of their facilities”.

The operator managed to pass the peak, but it could be prompted to review its safety margins further: some 45 GW of electricity production capacity was out of order or at reduced operation due to breakdowns or unavailable fuel. on December 23, out of its 186 GW of theoretical capacity.

“Interstate pipeline owners have reported that equipment problems and high demand are challenging their ability to deliver gas throughout the Northeast,” utility ConEdison told customers. To avoid a “blackout”, the electrician, which serves New York, asked them to moderate their consumption. A message that he had also begun to broadcast in September, to deal with an announced increase in bills of 32% for gas heating this winter, and 22% for electricity, due to the increase in energy course.

Several networks have still had to manage the shortage in recent days. The Tennessee Valley Authority, a public network operator that serves 10 million customers around Nashville, had to roll out blackouts for two days to avoid bringing down its network.

Texas scrutinized

If it was not at the heart of the icy storm, the Texas electricity network, which operates almost in almost a closed circuit for its 26 million customers, was once again scrutinized. While a debate raged after the 2021 disaster to protect facilities from the cold, some 11 gigawatts of gas and coal-fired power stations were still unavailable, along with 4 GW of wind turbines and 1.7 GW of solar panels. The network, however, withstood the shock, despite record demand at 74 gigawatts, 5% beyond its previous winter peak.

To replace the missing production capacities, the Texas network, which runs 60% on fossil fuels (gas and coal), obtained a declaration of emergency from the federal government, to overcome the pollution limits of the ‘air. A derogation criticized by environmental associations such as Air Alliance Houston or Public Citizen, which point to the lack of effort in energy control.

In the east of the country, the ISO New England network also used oil-fired power stations, which for a few hours provided 40% of electricity production. With prices reaching the authorized ceiling, at nearly 2,000 dollars per megawatt hour, against… 30 dollars in normal times.

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