I’m sure you’ve noticed that the reliability of our electric grid is getting worse — not better. In spite of new utility generation, transmission and monitoring technologies, blackouts and Public Safety Power Shutoffs are more common. There are more power outages, and these outages last longer.
In the “old days” about 20 years ago when the power went out we still had wired phone lines, we could throw a few logs in the fireplace, and we could go to the gas station to top off our tank. Now, without reliable electricity, our communications, entertainment, heating and cooling, and transportation are all as useless as a chocolate teapot.
I came across a recent report from E3, an electric grid consulting company, that summarized six trends that they say are making the grid’s reliability worse:
- More customers and more electric demand
- Retirement of coal and gas plants
- Increasing dependency on renewables, storage and distributed resources
- Increasingly extreme weather
- Increased risk of drought
- Tightening electricity markets in the West
In reality, the six trends listed above are excuses for utilities doing a poor job of delivery safe and reliable electricity. We don’t need a consultant to tell us that more electricity demand and more dependence on remote energy supplies — whether natural gas, hydro, wind or solar — will decrease the reliability of the grid. And it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that every one of these trends were predictable…and will continue.
The fundamental reason for lousy grid reliability is simple: utilities maximize their profits by deferring maintenance and installing their own power plants, transmission lines and local distribution equipment. Their executives don’t get a bonus for reliability, only for profits. Faster, cheaper and more reliable local power systems — rooftop solar, battery storage, vehicle to grid equipment, community solar — are avoided like the plague by utilities.
For a non-utility perspective about the causes of our unreliable electric grid — and what we can do about it — please listen to this week’s Energy Show.