01 18, 2023

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Key takeaways

  • December’s extreme weather led to outages across America, continuing a pattern of recent winters.
  • Bloomberg noted that the country “narrowly escape an even worse calamity.” Demand response was an important part of the response and will be a crucial part of creating a grid that is even more resilient to this extreme weather in the future.
  • We thank our customers for their essential contributions during the storm, especially as their efforts were made even more difficult by the timing of the storm during the holidays. 

Extreme weather has increased in recent years, with perhaps the most famous example being 2021’s Winter Storm Uri, when freezing temperatures well below average descended upon the South and energy demand climbed to record levels. The spike in demand, in combination with many power plants going offline due to the difficult operating conditions, resulted in an imbalance between supply and demand. As a result, power outages occurred. 

But it’s not just the South that is having difficulty with extreme cold.

In late December 2022, during the midst of the holiday season, a deep freeze affected the majority of the United States. This included areas of the Midwest and the Northeast that are used to cold weather and snow, yet even these areas struggled and witnessed blackouts. In the end, demand response (DR) played a crucial part in an unprecedented emergency response that helped the grid’s resilience and prevented the situation from becoming any worse – to ensure as many people as possible had power during the storm.

A massive holiday storm brought record lows

The storm (unofficially called “Winter Storm Elliott” by some outlets) blasted a huge part of the United States – it stretched from Colorado to the East Coast and even affected parts of Florida. Temperatures in many areas plummeted well below 0°F, with some even setting record lows for the day. Denver, for instance, reached -24°F, the coldest temperature in the city for 32 years, while Pittsburgh had the coldest Christmas Eve on record at -5°F.

Extreme cold leads to power outages for a variety of reasons. Electricity demand typically spikes as heating demand surges. At the same time, generation and transmission equipment can struggle to operate at such temperatures. In this instance, US natural gas supplies plummeted, with many natural gas wells freezing and rendering pipelines unusable. Supplies from Appalachia to the Tennessee Valley and the Midwest were at half their typical levels, leading to skyrocketing prices. 

Millions of households across the country lost power at some point during the storm. And with this intensity of severe weather happening more often, it’s becoming an alarming trend.

“These cold fronts expose the fragility of our energy systems,” Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas in Austin, told Bloomberg.

How demand response contributed to grid continuity

Responses varied across the country, but many demand response participants needed to take emergency action to provide the grid with the necessary power it needed to regain balance of energy supply and demand. The PJM Interconnection – a regional transmission organization that serves all or parts of 13 different states in the Mid-Atlantic United States – was faced with the lowest energy supply in over a decade after natural gas pipelines stopped working. 23% of PJM’s generation fleet was under forced outage, and they declared prolonged emergency conditions on December 23 and 24. As part of that emergency, both PJM’s Emergency Load Reduction Program (ELRP) and Synchronized Reserves (SR) were dispatched. The ELRP dispatch lasted 3 hours on December 23 and 14 hours on December 24. These emergency events were unprecedented in recent PJM history.

In ISO-NE, the regional transmission organization serving New England, the cold temperatures and unexpected generator outages resulted in ISO-NE declaring their Abnormal Conditions Alert (MLCC2). As system demand increased under these conditions, ISO-NE dispatched demand response resources to help resolve the capacity deficiency on the electric grid.

The Tennessee Valley Authority reached an all-time high for power demand on December 23, and eventually they needed to call 29 hours of emergency demand response. 

In all of these instances, demand response was only one part of the broader efforts to restore power or maintain reliability. But they were nonetheless a very important contribution to the resilience of the grid.

The crucial contributions of our demand response customers

In the end, Bloomberg noted that the country “narrowly escaped an even worse calamity.” Enel customers who participated in these events made a significant contribution to helping the grid regain stability. We applaud our customers for their efforts in the middle of a busy and meaningful time of year. Thank you for answering the call and providing grid relief at this crucial and unexpected moment.

As extreme weather leads to more events like these, we will need more resilient grids that are ready for unexpected weather. Demand response and other Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) are crucial to ensuring grid reliability and resilience and are essential to efforts that create an energy future that is both clean and reliable. 

Find out more about how your organization can enroll in regional demand response programs to contribute to the resilience of the grid – and earn revenue for your participation. Contact our demand response team today.

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