US utilities ready for a pandemic-stricken summer says NERC

US energy regulatory authority the National Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) has found the country ready for what it called an ‘unprecedented summer’ despite disruptions to preparations and the threat to the health and safety of critical industry workers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authority’s latest assessment, the 2020 Summer Reliability Assessment, has projected resources are at, or above, the levels needed. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in demand projections, disrupted preventative maintenance, supply stocking and training for the summer peak operating season.

Although the pandemic introduces significant uncertainty into demand and some risk to generation resource availability, the Anticipated Reserve Margins, which were based on pre-pandemic demand forecasts and anticipated resources, indicate that the assessment areas are prepared to meet potential peak demand with or without pandemic-related demand reductions.

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Further, in its continuing outreach and coordination with system operations and Reliability Coordinators, NERC did not identify any specific threat or degradation to the reliable operation of the bulk power
system for the spring time frame. “Industry appears well-positioned for the coming summer season,” said John Moura, director of Reliability Assessment and Performance Analysis.

“As pandemic-related restrictions continue through the summer, we may see electricity peak demand lower than forecast, which could help offset potential challenges with unexpected generation outages or extreme weather impacts.”

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The extensive pre-season preparation efforts that are normally conducted by generator and transmission owners and operators have been impinged by the global pandemic, with many deferring or cancelling pre-summer maintenance.

Monitoring the progress of ongoing efforts to prepare staff and equipment for summer will be important to ensuring the availability of anticipated resources to meet electricity demand.

Other key findings of the assessement include:

  • Protecting critical electric industry workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic remains a priority for reliability and resilience.
  • Late-summer wildfire season in western United States and Canada poses risk to bulk power system reliability.
  • Electricity and other critical infrastructure sectors face elevated cybersecurity risks arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to ongoing risks.