Powering Strong Communities

NERC Report Sees Weather, Cyber, Inverter Based Resource Threats To Reliability

Grid operators were able to maintain electric system reliability in 2021 with one notable exception, the February extreme cold weather event that affected Texas and parts of south-central United States, according to a new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC).

The cold weather event resulted in the largest controlled load shed event in U.S. history and the nation’s third largest load loss event, according to NERC’s 2022 State of Reliability report.

The February cold weather event, among other things, confirmed that interdependencies between the electricity and natural gas industries are a major new reliability risk that must be explicitly managed, NERC said in its report.

Last year also saw the rise of reliability threats from cyber attacks from nation-state adversaries and organized cyber criminals, who demonstrated they have “the ability and willingness to disrupt critical infrastructure,” NERC said.

Cyber-attacks “routinely targeted the digital supply chain and reports of suspicious cyber incidents (including vulnerability exposure, phishing, malware, denial of service, and other cyber-related reports) increased significantly in 2021,” the report found.

The NERC report also noted that there were several widespread solar photovoltaic loss events in 2021, two in Texas and four in California. Although reliability was maintained, those events highlighted the importance and urgency of expanding and accelerating ERO Enterprise and industry efforts to address them, the report said.

ERO Enterprise comprises NERC and the six North American regional electric reliability entities.

Conversely there are diminished levels of flexible generation, such as fuel-assured, weatherized, and dispatchable resources, in many parts of the nation, increasing the risk of energy shortfalls. “No longer is the peak demand period the only clear risk period; instead, risks can emerge when weather-dependent generation is impacted by abnormal atmospheric conditions or when extreme conditions disrupt fuel supplies,” the NERC report said.

Overall, the events of the past year have led the ERO Enterprise to begin reassessing how best to measure the overall reliability performance objectives for the industry, NERC said.

The report noted that NERC also has begun to address several of the growing threats. The ERO Enterprise, for instance, is implementing the recommendations in a report on the February cold weather event done by staff at NERC, the ERO Enterprise and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

When implemented, those actions will provide bulk electric system (BES) “planners and operators with additional tools to avoid a recurrence of BES reliability threats arising from extreme cold weather events and address energy availability standards development for long-term planning and operational planning/operations time frames,” NERC said.

Regarding electric-gas interdependency, NERC said its “forward-looking Reliability Assessment Program continues to emphasize the risk of increased reliance on natural gas generation,” and the ERO Enterprise is “actively encouraging registered entities to conduct studies to model plausible and extreme natural gas disruptions” set forth in its March 2020 reliability guideline.

NERC also said it is drafting supply chain requirements and guidance to reduce vulnerabilities and better protect industry systems and infrastructure.

And to address the intermittency of inverter based resources, NERC said the ERO Enterprise and industry are implementing recommendations set forth in reports on the solar power loss events in Texas and California.

In a recent episode of the American Public Power Association’s Public Power Now podcast, Jim Robb, President and CEO of NERC, detailed NERC’s 2022 summer reliability assessment and discussed supply chain challenges facing the power sector.