NewEnergyNews: BLACKOUT PLUS 5 YEARS: BETTER GRID, NEW VISION

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  • MONDAY’S STUDY AT NewEnergyNews, August 10:
  • The World’s New Energy Right Now

    Friday, August 22, 2008

    BLACKOUT PLUS 5 YEARS: BETTER GRID, NEW VISION

    5 years ago, August 14, 2003, the lights went out in much of the northeast quadrant of North America.

    Why? Some FirstEnergy transmission lines in Ohio came too close to trees and automatically shut down. The lines’ electricity was rerouted to lines that overloaded and went out. A FirstEnergy computer glitch prevented the company from finding and fixing the problem. Out of balance power plants and high-voltage lines caused generators and lines across eight states to shut down.

    Congress enacted remedies. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) got new authority to set standards like a requirement for utilities to trim trees near power lines and a requirement that utilities’ operators be trained and certified. The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) was given the authority to fine companies up to $1 million per day per violation.

    The bad news: Demands on the grid are vastly greater than they were 5 years ago and the demands will grow.

    The good news: There have been improvements. Regional grid operators and utilities invested heavily in enhanced computer system capacities. FirstEnergy alone spent $20 million on updating. Utilities can now monitor changes in power flow more closely. Their systems recognize potential failures, evaluate them and adjust power flows to prevent outages.

    The better news: The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) foresaw the urgent need to modernize the grid in preparation for adding gigawatts of New Energy to the U.S. energy mix. AWEA commissioned American Electric Power (AEP) to do the "AEP Transmission Vision," a map showing how to get fron the grid now to the grid that must be: 19,000 miles of 765-kilovolt (kV) power lines at a cost of $60 billion.

    The problem: Building new transmission incurs Not-In-My-BackYard objections (NIMBY-ism). It eventually requires the exercise of eminent domain to obtain pathways for the wires. And that generates further popular opposition.

    Transmission builders are working hard to create solutions. The fate of the U.S. electricity supply hangs in the balance. Who will next be in the dark (and is the light they need in their own backyard)?


    765 kV wire cuts transmission loss from 10% to 1%. The utilities call it "the next superhighway." (click to enlarge)

    U.S. power grid in better shape 5 years after blackout
    Paul Davidson, August 12, 2008 (USA Today)
    and
    Wind energy lobbyist maps U.S. power superhighway
    Timothy Gardner (w/Marguerita Choy), August 1, 2008 (Reuters)

    WHO
    Federal officials, grid operators and consultants (Rick Sergel, head, North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC); Branko Terzic, energy adviser, Deloitte Services/ former member, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Roland Schoettle, CEO, Optimal Technologies; Joseph Kelliher, chairman, FERC) Regional grids (Midwest Independent System Operator MISO); PJM Interconnection (PJM); American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) (Randall Swisher, Executive Director); American Electric Power (AEP) (Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman)

    WHAT
    The national grid is smarter and protects than it at the time of the 2003 blackout but demands are growing and inadequacies remain.

    Map of the "Transmission Vision." (click to enlarge)

    WHEN
    - The blackout happened Aug. 14, 2003.
    - In 2005, Congress passed new regulations and gave FERC and NERC new authority to get better performance from utilities and grid operators.
    - 2007: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) identified high priority transmission corridors, NYC to D.C. and L.A. to San Diego, a first step in building the Vision.

    WHERE
    - The blackout affected 50 million people in the Northeast, Midwest and part of Canada.
    - MISO and PJM are the regional grids that serve the Upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England states and central Canada.
    - The AEP Transmission Vision connects the wind-rich Midwest to the high demand population centers on the coasts.

    WHY
    - Remaining concern: Rapidly growing demand for electricity and diminishing sources of acceptable supply.
    - Remaining concern: Rapdily growing demand for electricity in population centers and development of New Energy in remote areas where there is inadequate transmission to deliver it.
    - Remaining concern: The strain of integrating New Energy into a grid inadequately intelligent to manage it.
    - Remaining concern: Cyberterrorism.
    - The AEP Transmission Vision is a $60 billion dollar undertaking to build 19,000 miles of 765-kilovolt power lines. It would update the aging grid’s capacity for bulk power and for New Energy transmission.
    - The new transmission the nation requires will – controversially – necessitate the exercise of the government’s power of eminent domain to obtain pathways for the wires.

    The entire red area was blacked out in 2003. (click to enlarge)

    QUOTES
    - Rick Sergel, head, NERC: "I can definitively say the events that led to the 2003 blackout are much less likely to occur…"
    - Roland Schoettle, CEO, Optimal Technologies: "The grid doesn't have a brain [that] makes sense of it in a holistic way…"
    - Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman, AEP: "[The Vision is of a] very highly efficient kind of superhighway…"
    - Randall Swisher, Executive Director, AWEA, on the exercise of the right of eminent domain: "I'm not aware of any utility that's building a transmission line that doesn't on occasion need to make use of such a tool…"
    - Will Pearson, global energy analyst, Eurasia Group: "[Midwestern wind] is a great resource that's largely untapped…but it seems there's widespread and very diverse opposition to federally driven programs."

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