NERC Highlights Importance Of Providing Essential Reliability Services In Wake Of Decreasing Coal & Nuclear

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The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the independent body given authority over grid reliability, has published its 10-year forecast and highlighted the “unique set of challenges” facing the American bulk power system in the face of decreasing nuclear and coal sources and increasing natural gas and renewables.

In its 2017 Long-Term Reliability Assessment (PDF), published this week, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has warned that the American bulk power system (BPS) must ensure “adequate levels of essential reliability services and fuel assurance” if they are to properly manage “a rapidly changing resource mix” and successfully meet renewable policy goals while “maintaining a highly reliable and resilient bulk power system.”

Specifically, the Assessment highlighted the “ongoing shift away from coal and nuclear generation through retirements and cancelled projects over the next decade” and the accompanying “additions of natural gas, wind, and solar resources, as well as tightening reserve margins in some areas.” The lack of reserve margins stems from the lack of coal and nuclear — which have seen significant retirements which, in some areas like Texas, NERC highlights might result in “projected margin shortfalls.”

For all their damage to the environment and potential risk, coal and nuclear as the core of the grid provided Essential Reliability Services (ERS) quite well — such as voltage support, ramping capability, and frequency response, all of which helped maintain the stability of the bulk power system. And for all their benefit to the environment and financial success, renewable energy sources like wind and solar are not (easily) able to provide these benefits. As such, the NERC Assessment highlights the need — in the face of the increase of natural gas and renewables and the decrease of coal and nuclear — “for more robust planning approaches to ensure adequate essential reliability services and fuel assurance.” This is important considering, as the Assessment explains, “significant amounts of DERs (primarily rooftop PV) are being integrated without the visibility of BPS planners and operators.”

“The accelerating move toward natural gas and renewables means the industry must adopt a more robust approach to planning the bulk power system so that it continues to be reliably operated,” said John Moura, director of Reliability Assessment and System Analysis.

Among the many recommendations made in NERC’s Assessment, they recommend policy makers and regulators should “support essential reliability services” and that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “should support new market products and/or changes to market rules that support the provision of essential reliability services, which includes frequency response and increased flexibility.” Further, and concerningly, NERC suggests that “FERC should consider the reliability and resilience attributes provided by coal and nuclear generation to ensure that the generation resource mix continues evolving in a manner that maintains a reliable and resilient BPS.”

It is important at this point to highlight that Greentech Media and a handful of other outlets are quoting the following and attributing it to NERC’s 2017 Long-Term Reliability Assessment: 

“… new resources, which are primarily natural gas and renewable generation, should collectively provide the bulk power system with the same level of voltage support, frequency response and other essential reliability services as conventional generators.”

However, the 2017 Long-Term Reliability Assessment doesn’t actually include this sentence in any of its 81 pages. In fact, if we restrict our interpretation of the Assessment’s recommendations to a reading of the Executive Summary’s Recommendations section, it would seem that NERC doesn’t actually confirm this statement. Quoting from the Executive Summary again, NERC says:

“As NERC has identified in recent assessments, retirements of conventional generation and the rapid addition of variable resources (e.g., wind and solar) are altering the operating characteristics of the grid. A significant influx of natural gas generation raises unique considerations regarding risks related to fuel assurance. While related risks and corresponding mitigations are unique to each area, industry stakeholders and policymakers should continue to respond with policies and plans to address fuel availability.”

To be clear, it also doesn’t appear that NERC is actively discouraging natural gas and renewable energy, or actively encouraging holding on to coal and nuclear. Among their key findings, NERC primarily highlights the need for “robust planning” and the development of ESR.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Throughout North America, growth in electricity demand is at its lowest rates on record.
  • Newly planned retirements of conventional generation in Texas and a canceled nuclear expansion in the Southeast mean that reserve margins will drop below targets beginning in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
  • Other reserve margins across North America are adequate through 2022.
  • Coal and nuclear generation retirements have outpaced conventional generation additions with continued additions of wind and solar.
  • Retirement plans have been announced for 14 nuclear units, totaling 10.5 GW.
  • Natural-gas-fired capacity has increased to 442 GW from 280 GW in 2009 with an additional 44.6 GW planned during the next decade.
  • Wind generation currently accounts for more than 10 percent of total installed capacity in six areas with 14.8 GW of NERC-wide additions projected during the next decade.
  • A total of 37 GW of solar additions are projected by 2022. Of these, 20 GW are distributed, raising visibility concerns for system planners.
  • Operating procedures that recognize potential inertia constraints were recently established in ERCOT and Québec.
  • With continued rapid growth of distributed solar, CAISO’s three-hour ramping needs have reached 13 GW, exceeding earlier projections and reinforcing the need to access more flexible resources

A summary of the Assessment’s key recommendations include:

  • All new resources should have the capability to support voltage and frequency.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should support new market rules that support the provision of essential reliability services.
  • FERC should consider the reliability attributes of coal and nuclear generation to ensure that the resource mix continues to evolve in a manner that ensures the reliability and resilience of the bulk power system.
  • When evaluating infrastructure requirements, policy makers should consider NERC and industry studies related to the potential bulk power system impacts of natural disruption.
  • Transmission planners and operators should identify and report on expected reliability concerns related to interruptible natural gas transportation.

“NERC will work with the industry on a comprehensive review of Reliability Standards to ensure compatibility with the changing resource mix and adequate levels of essential reliability services, including frequency response and increased system flexibility,” added Thomas Coleman, director of Reliability Assessment.

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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