Power Outage Rapid Response Toolkit

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Interruptions in electricity supply – ‘the lights going out’ – make for arresting headlines and capture public attention. Yet it is strikingly rare for any kind of electricity generation shortfall to trigger blackouts: major reliability events are nearly always the result of grid failure incidents such as wires frying or being damaged by trees.

Furthermore, none of the recent events that have occurred in markets with high shares of renewables have been caused by over-reliance on renewables to provide sufficient electricity supplies. In spite of this, the fossil energy industry has a track record of seizing on any opportunity to promote the narrative that more fossil generation is needed and that the growing shift to renewables is undermining and driving up the cost of secure supplies.

To dispel many of the myths surrounding the causes of recent significant power outages, the toolkit looks at four case studies: Texas 2021, California 2020, Great Britain 2019 and South Australia 2016.

These case studies prove it is important that advocates for a clean energy transition can set the record straight quickly, credibly and substantively. This package equips advocates with information and tools to respond quickly to the misinformation that spreads rapidly in the wake of power grid reliability events, and in particular:

  • introduces the advocate to reliability events, and their causes and consequences; 
  • provides a checklist for advocates to understand and analyse emerging reliability events (a separate, interactive checklist can be downloaded here: Power Grid Rapid Response Checklist);
  • provides holding lines for advocates during the information vacuum that normally proceeds a reliability event;
  • explains why large-scale reliability events are almost always caused by network failures and not renewable electricity generation.

Understanding the Western Grid: Building a Renewable-Ready Western Grid

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​In a presentation for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, Dr. Carl Linvill discussed the economic and decarbonization benefits resulting from regional collaboration on transmission projects, as well as the role legislators can play in paving the way.

FERC Transmission: The Highest-Yield Reforms

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Most of America’s transmission grid was built in the 20th century to serve central power stations burning coal, oil, more recently, fossil gas, and nuclear stations.  In a world where solar and wind energy are now less expensive than fossil-fuel generated energy — and much less expensive with the costs of pollution are considered — it is indisputable that this old transmission system requires a major overhaul. Order 1000, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2011, lowered some barriers to competition, but regional transmission organizations have by and large not aligned their transmission planning and funding with state policies and objectives. A broader, more interregional approach to transmission is also needed to make the grid more flexible and reliable. And the rapid development of offshore wind requires better transmission planning in order to avoid capacity constraints and unnecessary costs.

In this brief, the authors consider FERC’s current efforts to reform interconnection and transmission planning and ask the question: What is the best focus for reform of federal regulation of this complex and disparate set of transmission grids across the United States? The brief answers this question in five parts:

  • What FERC did think about: interconnection;
  • What FERC should be thinking about: competition;
  • What else FERC should be thinking about: integrating offshore wind transmission efficiently and reliably;
  • What FERC can do to drive effective implementation: oversight; and
  • What FERC knows: To be effective, standards need to be mandatory for RTOs and transmission organizations.

Electricity Regulation and Markets: Federal and State Roles

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​In a briefing for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, Dr. Carl Linvill provided an overview of electric transmission regulation and markets. Jeff Ackermann discussed unique considerations for Western states.

Harness Disruption or Be Disrupted

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​During a panel at the National Governors Association’s annual Governors’ Advisors’ Energy Policy Institute, David Littell presented on the importance of distribution and transmission planning in an era of disruptive technology.​

Regional Operational Centres: A review of the Commission’s proposal and recommendations for improvement

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Close coordination of Europe’s power networks on a regional basis is important, as illustrated vividly in November 2006, when Europe came close to experiencing a widespread blackout. Since that time, Transmission System Operators (TSOs) have voluntarily worked together to increase regional coordination. In its ‘Clean Energy for All Europeans’ legislative package, the Commission has proposed to further increase regional cooperation within the Internal Electricity Market. Specifically, the proposed Electricity Regulation will create Regional Operational Centres (ROCs) that build on the framework established by Regional Security Coordinators through EU Network Codes.

The Commission’s proposal to create ROCs is a step forward in establishing an institutional framework for regional system operation and optimal use of interconnectors, and will also help to increase economic welfare at both the regional and European level. RAP and Client Earth recommend the following improvements to the Commission’s proposal:

  1. ROCs should be given a bigger role in risk-preparedness in recognition of the fact that ROCs will, in time, develop the regional knowledge, necessary expertise, and analytical capability that will allow them to identify regional crisis scenarios more effectively than ENTSO-E or individual Member States. We therefore suggest that the ROCs should be responsible for identifying crisis scenarios.
  2. The Commission’s proposal should anticipate that, ultimately, ROCs should oversee the real-time operation of Europe’s regional transmission networks in addition to providing near-real-time analysis and guidance. While both the TSOs’ regional security coordination initiatives, later formalised as Regional Security Coordinators, and the Commission’s ROC proposal recognise the need for near-real-time transmission planning activities to be carried out on a regional basis in the interests of increased market efficiency, neither addresses the eventual need to take a similar approach to real-time activities.
  3. A strong governance structure is imperative for the ROCs to function as intended. Suggested additions to the governance framework include ensuring independence, establishing a clearer mission for the ROCs, and empowering the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators to exercise stronger oversight of the ROCs. These steps should ensure that ROCs operate freely from any national bias that would be in conflict with the interests of all consumers in the region. We also recommend including a legal mechanism for promoting transparency, public scrutiny, and meaningful participation of stakeholders.

These recommendations will allow the Commission’s proposed Electricity Regulation to fully optimize the transmission system in the interests of market efficiency and ensure a least-cost transition to a decarbonized power system.