Berkeley Lab report sheds light on US electrical grid shortcomings

Electricity industry high voltage towers at sunset
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab/Courtesy

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In order to meet new challenges facing the nation’s electric grid, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published recommendations to improve electrical reliability.

The report analyzed the three major interconnections in the United States — Eastern, Western and Texas — and highlighted the changes within the energy grid on both the production and consumption sides as new kinds of power plants and renewable energy have increased.

The researchers prepared the report for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Electric Reliability as part of an ongoing effort to analyze grid interconnectedness. It was based on a similar 2010 report.

“The purpose of this study is to support policymaker and industry understanding of the physical requirements for reliable interconnection frequency response, which is the collective ability of the power system to respond to sudden loss events, such as a large generator going down,” said Joe Eto, the principal author of the report and staff scientist, in a press release from the Berkeley Lab.

In addition to assessing interconnectedness, the report looked at the capacity of many generators to assess if they could increase energy production in a crisis. The report looked at how plants can control energy production as well as the rate of production increase that is possible.

The report emphasized the importance of primary frequency response, or the automatic and autonomous response to changes in frequency. Interconnection frequency response is the process by which the power system responds to loss of generation.

When generators are unable to make up for power loss, the stress to the system leads to more widespread power failures, according to the report. In order to ensure frequency response and reliability, the researchers said, there must be advanced planning and incorporation of new technologies.

The report included six recommendations to increase electrical grid safety and connectedness. These included a more extensive data collection system, review and integration of international practices into U.S. grid interconnectedness, preparation of as many generators as possible to provide response in case of a power failure and incorporation of new technologies  such as wind and solar into both study and practice.

“Now that the composition of the load and generation is changing, we need to take a closer look,” Eto said in the press release. “If we don’t pay attention to it, we could be in for an unpleasant surprise. And nobody likes it when the lights go out.”

Contact Madeleine Gregory at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.