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Notes on a Long, Hot Summer: How the Power Industry Met This Summer’s Test and What’s Next

As summer in the Northern Hemisphere comes to an end, it comes with a sigh of relief for those who struggled with daily excessive temperature warnings and stifling heat domes. In fact, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts this year will be one of the hottest years on record. 

In the U.S., grid operators throughout the country warned of emergency operations in the event demand exceeded supply. Across Europe, power grids faced similar challenges to ensure reliability in the face of extreme heat. 

With the potential for warmer than normal weather becoming more and more common, and a U.S. power grid rapidly transitioning to increased reliance on renewable energy, power generators are feeling the heat to ensure they can keep up with the demand for safe and reliable electricity. 

We sat down with Jenny Bulach, Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division’s Industry Consultant for Power, to talk about how power companies are coping with these dramatic swings in seasonal temperature fluctuations that place abnormal demand on the grids. 

Q: This summer the U.S. power grid saw record temperatures and record demand. Through it all, the lights stayed on across the nation. How were power generators able to make sure to stay online during such a challenging summer? 

Every region in the U.S. faced different grid reliability challenges this summer. California ISO, the California grid operator, survived this summer in part due to excessive winter rains providing greater hydropower availability, an increase in batteries and demand response programs. ISO-NE (New England) had a first-time-ever preliminary summer peak during September due to excessive heat waves hitting later in summer than usual. It was able to meet demands with a mix of energy supply.   

A generation mix of traditional gas and coal with solar, wind and batteries, and in some cases, good demand response programs, helped on the generation side. The reliability of generators is key during peak times. This is a challenge for all generators, especially fossil plants that are cycling heavily.  For the transmission side, proper preparation for peak seasons makes sure grid reliability can be maintained.   

It is not only a mix of energy supply but the reliability of the assets that allows electricity to be delivered consistently, at the right time, especially during peak demands. The reliability of traditional asset performance is even more critical today, with the global push for green energy use in spite of the intermittent nature of renewables. 

At Hexagon, we see our customers putting particular emphasis on operational excellence, leveraging our solutions to improve shift handover and to digitally transform paper-based, high-risk operational procedures and work processes. These types of investments allow customers to be more nimble and adaptable as they face new operating conditions.  

Q: Knowing that power companies are focused on identifying what lessons they learned, what do you think those ‘lessons learned’ are for the industry this summer? 

A mix of generation and transmission integration and stability is critical to keep our systems available at peak demand times. Looking back at forecasted and actual peaks and preparing for proper margins during these times will continue to allow the generators and the electric grid to deliver to customers.   

There is no one solution. Rather, the proper planning and execution of reliability programs for the entire system: generation, transmission and distribution will be what keeps the power on.   

Looking back can always help, but longer-term capital investments and decisions will require a broader view of what investments across the value chain are necessary to ensure demand is met. We’ve seen customers in this sector leveraging Hexagon’s enterprise project performance solution to better optimize their project portfolio, establishing long-term capital plans on where to best invest for the future, while simultaneously gaining the visibility to quickly pivot when external shocks – economic, regulatory, etc. – force changes to the plan.  

Q: As power plant operators look to manage more extreme, unpredictable weather, what best practices or tools should generators keep in mind – particularly around plant operations and maintenance? 

All generators need to prepare for extremes. ERCOT, the Texas grid operator, learned many lessons from the Winter Storm Uri 2021 event. Best practices of having winter prep plans, summer prep plans, checklists or preventative maintenance work orders set up to make sure nothing is missed when preparing for peak seasons will continue to drive reliability and reduce challenges. 

Looking back in the short term can help prevent the recurrence of issues but with the grid and generation requirements changing with the push for more electric vehicles, looking back is not going to be enough. During the past 30 years, energy growth in the U.S. has trailed off as electric conservation and technology have changed. This will not be the case moving forward as growth increases at higher rates than in recent decades.  Proper forecasting and preparation methods will need to change as well to address the need for more generation at higher peaks more often than we have seen in recent years. 

With aging assets, the diversity of generation mix will continue to be important as well as capital investments in the grid and generation to make sure the new demands can be met. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook, weighing into what and where those investments can be made will become more imperative using existing information and predictive data to improve reliability.  

Advancements in technology, such as the latest enterprise asset management software, are crucial to improve overall asset performance as change overtakes the power industry. By enabling more predictive maintenance, technology helps ensure power companies achieve the longest possible life from their assets and minimize disruptive outages during critical times.   

Q: Resiliency is a critical initiative for many in the power sector. Resiliency from extreme weather, resiliency around a changing generation mix. What are some critical components companies should consider when thinking about resiliency around power generation? 

A: Reliability while maintaining or reducing costs is critical to the longevity of electric production and distribution. As technology developed, so has the amount of data collected. Organizing the data and getting it to a meaningful view can be overwhelming. Using software to expedite the process and develop views where decisions can be made faster with better outcomes. 

Better access to data across the electric system will play an important role in increasing the resiliency of the electric system.  

Hexagon’s vision of a Smart Digital Reality™ breaks down siloes of information enabling better access to data. Data sources are easily interconnected allowing for a more advanced digital twin – connecting digital and physical worlds across engineering and operations. The result being greater efficiency, productivity, safety and quality of power facilities.  

By increasing this digitalization across the power sector, companies will be better equipped to review the history of equipment and spending and predict failures to allow time to rectify ahead of time. It is not one single thing that will continue to keep the delivery of electricity consistent and reliable. It will continue to be a combination of types of generation provided with those assets' reliability. 

About the Author

Jenny Bulach is Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division’s Industry Consultant for Power. She has 25+ years of experience across technical, operational and financial aspects of the power industry and the markets supporting it.

Profile Photo of Jenny Bulach