Rapid electrification poses risks to power grids across the United States that are straddling the twin goals of decarbonizing the sector and maintaining reliable supply, grid operators told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday.
Appearing before the Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, officials from all seven of the country’s grid operators said multiplying electricity demand will strain the power supply as the sector shifts from burning fossil fuels towards renewable sources.
“We are seeing the potential for the rate of electricity demand to significantly increase in the future due to the electrification of transportation and heating sectors,” said Frederick Bresler, vice president of market services for PJM Interconnection, the biggest grid operator.
While new technologies like battery storage develop to become commercially viable and scalable, electric grids will need to keep relying on conventional sources like coal and natural gas, officials said.
Referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to slash carbon emissions from power plants using carbon capture and hydrogen, Midcontinent ISO’s Senior Vice President Todd Ramey said grid reliability will be “compromised” if the proposal drives polluting generators to retire before they are sufficiently replaced.
Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended revising reliability standards for power grid and natural gas infrastructure to avoid issues during extreme weather.
“Once almost unthinkable, we must now plan for ‘once in a century’ extreme weather events on a continual basis,” said Paul Suskie, general counsel of Southwest Power Pool, which had to resort to controlled blackouts during Winter Storm Uri in 2021.
Projecting a doubling of average power demand and a tripling of winter peak demand in New England by 2050, Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO New England, proposed carbon pricing to compensate carbon-free energy sources and incentivize other resources to cut their emissions.