Americans who don't have any alternative source of power when the grid goes down may be in for some very uncomfortable days this summer.
Or so warns NERC, the agency tasked with overseeing the health of the nation's electrical grid, at any rate.
What is NERC
NERC stands for "North American Electric Reliability Corporation" and, as the name suggests, it's responsible for more than just the US power grid.
NERC's jurisdiction includes all of the interconnected power systems of Canada and the 48 contiguous United States, as well as parts of Mexico.
As the agency tasked with making sure the North American power grid runs smoothly, NERC's duties include:
Developing safety standards for the operation of power plants and all related infrastructure.
Monitoring and enforcing compliance with those standards
Providing educational and training resources as part of an accreditation program to ensure power system operators remain qualified and proficient
NERC's Summer Reliability Assessment
NERC is also responsible for investigating and analyzing the causes of significant power system disturbances in order to help prevent them from happening in the future.
In this latter capacity, the agency releases a report before the start of each summer assessing what the regional risk of blackouts will be.
And, unfortunately, this year's report warns that two-thirds of the US is at risk of facing blackouts this summer due to electricity shortages.
To make matters worse, NERC's annual summer assessments have been getting progressively more pessimistic.
"Going back at least five years, NERC's reliability assessments have noted a steady deterioration in the risk profile of the grid," John Moura, director of reliability assessment at NERC, said during a press webinar to discuss NERC's 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment.
Moura went on to note that, while such risks used to be confined to states like California and Texas, in recent years the prospect of summer power shortages has spread to the rest of the country.
This year's report projects shortfalls in all of New England plus every state west of Ohio should summer temperatures climb too high.
No one to rely on
In the past, when only the hottest areas were at serious risk, if one such region did lose power another was there to step in and make up for the deficit.
Now that the risk of power outages is spreading, however, those that do occur are liable to be more severe since it's less likely any neighboring region will have enough surplus power to take up the slack.
"In the past ... we've been accustomed to counting on our neighbors with hefty margins for support," Moura noted, "but a wide-area heat event can substantially hamper that ability."