A Crisis Is Looming For The U.S. Energy Grid

Yves here. In a discussion yesterday about how some automakers are committing to an all-electric car lineup in the not-too-distant future, several readers pointed out that this notion is unrealistic both based on battery requirements as well grid limitations. This article underscores how creaky US electricity networks are.

And grids will come under stress due to the super-cold weather spell. Texas blackouts redux?

By Felicity Bradstock, a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. Originally published at OilPrice

  • The U.S.’ aging energy infrastructure is already under strain, but the combination of more renewable power sources and higher demand could cause shortages for years to come.
  • The major concern for the energy grid is severe weather events, such as the Texas freeze in February 2021 when the state had to carry out rotating power outages.
  • The Midwest and South-Central U.S. are at the highest risk of electricity shortages, but the entire country needs to modernize its electricity grid to avoid shortages in the future.

As U.S. energy infrastructure continues to go largely neglected and city populations keep rising, certain regions of America are under threat of electricity shortages for several years to come. In addition to inadequate energy infrastructure, the rise of renewable power sources and the growing countrywide energy demand are putting pressure on the grid like never before.  The Midwest and South-Central U.S. appear to be most at risk of electricity shortages according to a recent analysis. These regions fall into the “high risk” and “elevated risk” categories. The shortages are most likely to be seen during peak energy usage times, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation(NERC). There is a multitude of reasons for the shortages, largely centered around America’s aging energy infrastructure.

At present, across the Midwest, a larger quantity of power generation is going offline than new electricity being brought online. This has meant shortages in the region since 2018. In contrast, California uses a wide mix of electricity sources, including renewable energy options such as solar power, which is not consistent. In addition, the demand varies throughout the day, with peak times failing to coincide with high-solar power output times. The energy issues have also been spurred by a general global shortage of LNG following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions on Russian energy.

Concerns around shortages are mostly based on elevated peak demand, which means both higher summer and winter demand, peak hour usage, and the surge in demand during severe weather events when people are more likely to use their air conditioners and heating systems. There are worries that shortages will hit hard in the winter months, as power demand in Texas rises by a projected 7 percent over last winter. Last year, the state’s grid operator carried out rotating power outages due to shortages caused by the Texas freeze of February 2021.

Meanwhile, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) has seen reserve margins decline by 5 percent from last winter. NERC stated: “Energy emergencies [in the region] are likely in extreme conditions.” And in New England, the level of oil stored at power generators was at around 40 percent capacity, with NERC suggesting that generators should fill up tanks to prepare. Following the winter shortages, a greater burden on the grid will likely be seen again in summer 2023 as demand once again increases in the warm weather.

Several utilities are responding to national and international pressures to shift away from fossil fuels to greener alternatives. However, with solar and wind power being the most common renewable energy sources in the U.S., and the development of battery storage facilities in the early stages, the variable energy supply and demand make it difficult to ensure consistent electricity delivery. In addition, much of the U.S. energy infrastructure requires a major overhaul to make it fit for use as populations grow and different technologies are used to produce energy.

John Moura, the director of reliability assessment at NERC, stated “We are living in extraordinary times from an electric industry perspective.” He explained, “Managing the pace of our generation retirement and our resource mix changes to ensure we have enough energy and essential services are an absolute necessity,” and added, “We need to work with the entire ecosystem to make sure we’re managing that base and to be very clear that we’re not retiring generation prematurely — that is done in an orderly fashion and especially in areas that are right on the edge.”

There have long been concerns about America’s aging energy infrastructure not being up to scratch, a worry that has heightened in recent years due to more frequent extreme weather events across several states. This was an issue when the U.S. relied predominantly on easily transportable fossil fuels, but now that the energy mix is becoming more diversified, the energy infrastructure must evolve alongside it. This means new transmission lines, which can take between seven and 15 years to build. The U.S. must also increase its battery storage capacity by incorporating battery storage in renewable energy operations to ensure a consistent energy supply.

NERC also highlights the growing amount of electricity being used to mine cryptocurrency, suggesting the need for greater regulations on crypto mining and energy use. The U.S. is home to around a third of global crypto-asset operations, which requires between 0.9% to 1.7% of the country’s total electricity usage to mine, at present. This is equivalent to the usage of all electricity home computers or residential lighting in the U.S.

A combination of factors, from aging energy infrastructure to high demand, more frequent extreme weather events, and LNG shortages, are putting increasing pressure on the U.S. grid. While investments are made in modernizing the grid and boosting battery storage alongside renewable energy operations, certain regions of the U.S. are likely to see electricity shortages in peak seasons for several years to come.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Thorleif

    I guess the situation in Sweden resemble the US aging infrastructure. Due to recent political decisions some years ago important nuclear-power sources have been over-taxed and closed leading to large scale imbalances between electric consumtion and production. New intermittent windenergy in the north also lacks all the necessesary rotation-mass (apart from lacking gross-capacity) to transport enough electricity to the south were most consumers are. On top the EU demands 70% of capacity of lately built export-cables to be filled for the neighbouring countries while deregulations due to EU-reforms in the 90s resulted in that one of the world’s most efficient and cheapest energy infrastructure (Sweden) turned into an european energy-colony partly owned by foreign countries (Finland, Norway, Germany and China (wind)).

    1. Not This Again

      The situation is pretty well the same in all of the countries who won WWII, as they all more or less electrified their rural base immediately afterwards and haven’t done sweet F!@# all since.

  2. Watt4Bob

    The one way to fix all this is the one way that won’t be considered.

    The nation’s grid should be nationalized.

    The corporations currently running the show are encumbered by the same sort of thinking that that is slowly wrecking everything.

    These people think the cheerleaders can win the game without the players.

    They are willing to spend any amount on lobbying and greenwashing PR campaigns, but unwilling to face the necessity of maintaining their equipment,

    And they are abusive of their employees, and customers in all the usual ways.

    That’s the part that might be fixed easily except they are absolute in their opposition to regulation, and willing to let their customers freeze or burn to death rather than face what should be considered their obvious civic responsibilities.

    The nation’s electrical grid and the system that generates the power flowing through it should be an over-engineered, and run as a public service, instead it’s a sick and starving horse being run into the ground for the profit of a few.

    1. Not This Again

      1) Nationalization by itself doesn’t help. A large percentage of the Canadian utilities are provincially owned and have the same problems. The key issue is that everybody wants an infinite amount of free power and also want it to be environmentally friendly, perfectly reliable on demand and ideally invisible.

      To state more clearly: This is not simply a corporation problem–it is also a customer and regulator problem

      2) The US has two reasonably well-run state-owned utilities (Tennessee Valley Authority and Bonneville Power Administration). The staff there are competent, but they complain about the same things that every other utility complains about. Having said that, most utility employees are actually (from what I can tell) reasonably content–on average thy seem a hell of a lot happier than their hi-tech and government counterparts despite making a fraction of the salaries, at any rate, although I am working from a small sample size.

      3) The author of this piece is conflating a few problems–it takes 7-10 years to build a transmission line due to environmental restrictions and an infinite number of public hearings. Are you in favor or removing these? Because most people aren’t. So here we are….

      4) Utilities are in fact very, very highly regulated–I have no idea where you get the impression that they aren’t. The regulations are being used to prevent overengineering, though–this is the case across every single jurisdiction that I am aware of.

      1. JBird4049

        >>>Utilities are in fact very, very highly regulated

        Being heavily regulated does not mean being well regulated. Just look at my local utility Pacific Gas and Electric. The only thing they are good at is maintaining the corruption that enriches the shareholders and executives.

        1. Not This Again

          I completely agree. I guess the disagreement is that nationalization will not improve the quality of regulation.

          I would caution that PG&E is hardly unique, though–rather, they are likely 5 years ahead of the general utility curve.

  3. semper loquitur

    How will we charge them all? US needs to spend $35 BILLION to meet demand for 1.2 million public ports by 2030 (And that’s not counting the 28M needed in homes!)

    The US needs to build 30 million EV charging ports or 478 per day until 2030 – at a cost of $35 billion over eight years – if half of drivers switch

    America has about 128,000 public EV charging outlets and at least 4,500 private ones currently – in comparison with 150,000 gas stations

    Although EV sales have climbed a lot each year since 2016, many consumers cite batteries and charging issues as their main concerns

    In California, automakers have until 2035 to completely phase out gas guzzlers but the state’s charging infrastructure needs to expand dramatically


    1. Hickory

      That’s about 1/3 what has been wasted/shoveled at Ukraine this year. That money is not hard to come by in the US. It’s just consistently spent for the benefit of the rich.

    2. Sushi

      America has about 128,000 public EV charging outlets and at least 4,500 private ones currently – in comparison with 150,000 gas stations

      This is a misleading statistic. Each of those gas stations will have multilple pump islands each capable of hosting four vehicles at a time. One EV charging outlet hosts one vehicle.

      The time for a single vehicle fill is under 15 minutes.The tim for an EV full charge is measured in hours typically more than four.

      The demand to be placed on the EV charging system once the mandatory shift to a full EV fleet or even a 25% EV fleet is greatly under estimated.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        Fast DC chargers take from 10 to 30 minutes to charge a medium sized car, depending on how low the initial level in the car is. For travelling – as opposed to commuting, DC chargers are the ONLY option. (Although Fast AC is an option if your car can take the power). The majority of AC chargers, at least here in the UK, are slow.

        But for certain, the supply is nowhere near meeting what demand will be in the near future.

        1. Jams O'Donnell

          And then there is the question of whether there is enough lithium in the world for all those new cars. New battery designs and materials are always in the pipeline, but can take decades to enter manufacturing status.

    1. Felix_47

      I was just about to add solar to my new roof project when this law came in. The theory is that poor people and minorities are subsidizing the rich who can afford to put in solar and so the poor people in California are paying for the utility infrastructure. Needless to say when I penciled it out putting solar in no longer made any sense financially. It might make you feel good about the planet but no way it makes sense for most households. So we can say goodbye to household solar in California except in new housing where it is required. If we want to help the poor how about a guaranteed annual income, and government paid adequate child support and a nationalized health care system and good public transit paid for by taxing the rich progressively, getting rid of carried interest and draconian inheritance taxes so the playing field is levelled……meaning everyone making over the median income…..not Joe Biden’s 500,000 per year middle class? I wonder who the industry lobbyists were that killed household solar in California of all places.

      1. John

        Wind? Fine. Solar? Fine. What carries your base load when the wind drops and clouds diminish the solar output. No hydrocarbons? OK. No coal? Fine. What carries your base load? Well there is nuclear. Oh no. Can’t have that. No transmission lines in “my back yard.” Damage to the environment you know or at least we can keep in tied up in court for years.

        Let’s see. You have wind and solar but do not want anything else and yet you want a constant uninterrupted supply of power. And electric vehicles … with batteries that need frequent charging … and sometimes catch fire.

        I do not see how you have that cake much less how you get to eat it by 2035 or any other deadline you care to name.

        1. Hazelbrew

          I wonder if there is merit in looking at “base load” more closely?
          Is it a given that what we consider base load now will be considered the same in ten years?
          If I look at what I use and need in the house as a.base. then It is the fridge, freezer (though even those are ok for intermittent power), internet connection, some lighting, and power to central heating gas boiler for heat and hot water. These are.in use constantly. The higher load devices are intermittent use by nature. Eg electric oven(2kW) , kettle for tea (1kW, Brit, essential item ;) ), washing machine etc.
          If my supply is limited I am just going to learn to manage it.

          1. chris

            You’re not considering the more important components in evaluating baseboard needs. Those are industry and critical infrastructure. Things like hospitals, prisons, schools, water treatment ffacilities, etc. Baseboard needs start there and then expand to accommodate other requirements. Then you need to consider peaking. The problem with our modern society is that peak hours for more countries are now after the sunsets most times of the year. Around 8 PM. Not a lot of sun or even wind available at that time of day. So for baseboard, and peaking, we need something different than what these people are typically proposing.

            And that’s not including anything like restoring of industry. Which could very well accelerate due to the problems in Ukraine.

      2. TimH

        Solar in CA is fine if you can use all you generate without storage. It’s the net-zero approach that is being hit.

  4. Not This Again

    By the way, this article doesn’t mention a key point that keep most utilities up at night: What the hell are we going to do if we actually re-industrialize at scale? If you think that meeting EV demand is impossible, just wait until factories start dotting the landscape again

    Oh yeah–and the NERC regulations are mostly a F!@#ing mess and the most inefficient way to regulate anything, along with being insanely counterproductive a large part of the time. An enormous amount of time and money that should go towards grid improvements instead go to paperwork.

    1. Thorleif

      Biden have neutralized the german export machine by cutting off the russian gas supply and then invited foreign industries to the US through the Inflation Reduction Act.

      Could reindustrialisation be at risk due to energy-constraints? Interesting questions indeed!

      1. vao

        That’s why German corporations will move to Turkey instead, where Putin and Erdogan are busy setting up an energy hub with gas and oil pipelines from Russia, the Caucasus, the Near East and the Mediterranean converging on Anatolia. In terms of relocating industries, the USA will get leftovers.

        1. Not This Again

          Or, ironically, move to Russia, so that instead of dealing with two potential sources of instability (Russia and Turkey), you only need to deal with one (Russia).

          Who was it who said that once you start believing that God is a really bad amateur comedian, the world suddenly starts to make a lot of sense….

          1. vao

            Quite difficult for a German (or European) firm to relocate to Russia because of sanctions and all the trouble with financial flows, insurance, etc.

            On the other hand, if that German corporation first changes its domiciliation to, say Singapore, then this should go a long way to eschew all those issues, as it no longer is a German firm… Yes, it requires legal work, and shareholders must agree, but this is quite feasible for large, multinational corporations.

            If such moves would take place, then Germany would not only lose jobs (manufacturing plants moving to Turkey or Russia), but also corporate taxes (as the headquarters will be relocated in a foreign country), and trade surpluses (since production that took place in Germany would disappear). Given their track record so far, I am sure the geniuses in the German government are oblivious to all that.

            1. Thorleif

              Yes, but whatever option they choose the german people will feel some gruesome hardships in the coming years. So will the business-life and those dependent trading partners to Germany.

  5. Mikerw0

    It is way worse than this article states. So much so that it is depressing. The IEEE on EVs, and especially the one about Palo Alto is the canary in the coal mine (pun sort of intended). The grid is old, decrepit, susceptible to failure, expensive to fix and not designed for how we will try and use it in the future. It is essentially unidirectional, has not mechanisms for mass storage, etc. Our generating systems as NC so ofter point out are also from a different time and place. We need help and our policicians can’t do the basic math to even understand the issues.

    1. sharron

      Being in Texas our aged grid is stressed by long periods of excessive heat, increasing population and occasional freak winter weather. We are considering adding a non-grid tied solar system to power solar friendly a/c heat pumps. A small system will cool 1200 sq ft and only need 5 450-watt panels. As we are on 3 acres, we have room for a ground mount system. This will all least provide us with indoor temperature protection. We can add battery storage as the price falls if we desire and more panels along the way. It seems that my cost would be very reasonable to install this simple system. My husband is 79 with many agent orange diseases and cannot tolerate temperature extremes. With this cold front we are dealing with now we have set up a backup generator. It is a shame we have to harden our personal infrastructure especially as I realize so many cannot. A commentator I admire stated:” We inherited a country with the best infrastructure in the world and then complained about paying taxes to maintain it”. So short sighted.

      1. Hazelbrew

        When you say stressed by long periods of heat.
        Do you mean the grid itself is stressed because of the temperature?

        Or the extra load because of the temperature causes the problems? I.e. the extremes?

        1. tevhatch

          I can’t speak for sharron, but I can tell you the answer to your question on a generic basis is both. Demand goes up with temperature, and grid equipment, including cables, must decrease their maximum carry load with increase in ambient temperature/solar loading. Aging also decreases the maximum carry load on grid equipment, so past performance may not guarantee future performance.

          1. tevhatch

            I should add demand can also go up with temperatures well below STP, but in this case it is usually the case that loading must be kept high to keep items like switch gear unfrozen, oil filed transformers from shorting to ground, etc, and loss of loads for extended periods could create a situation where re-loading the grid can take days or weeks for a well practiced grid management company to carry out. I don’t know if such an organization exists in the USA at the moment.

            1. hazelbrew

              thank you. What is STP? and I didnt know that reloading a grid was even a thing, nor that it would take time. I’m not surprised now I think about it.

              went and did some reading of my own rather than relying on the good nature of commenters here.

              This was fairly accessible. from 2016.
              Electric grid vulnerabilities to rising air temperatures in Arizona

              from the abstract:

              Preliminary results indicate that components could require maintenance or replacement up to 3 times more often due to mechanical failures, outages could occur up to 30 times more often due to overcurrent tripping, and the probability of cascading failures could increase 30 times as well for a 1 °C increase in ambient air temperature.

              results of high air temperature match what you say:
              – reduced peak generation capacity and/or efficiency losses in transmission and distribution
              – higher demand from air conditioning (the “obvious” one to me)
              – lower capacity in lines and transformers – exceed safe peak and safety mechanisms kick in.
              – higher degradation rate of components – e.g. going from 70 years Mean time to failure (MTTF) to, say 25. would imply 3x the amount of maintenance is required. so as you say ageing – an accelerated ageing rate

              The one about maintenance being needed at a higher rate strikes me as the sort of thing companies will bury and not want to acknowledge, that along with the increased risk of outages.

              there is even reference in there to mechanical risks – i.e. sag on the transmission lines increases with temperature – the implication being that trees etc would need to be cleared more regularly or widely than historically. All that implies more effort on maintenance. or skimp it and increase the risk of fire?

              there is more complexity to this than I imagined.

              1. tevhatch

                STP = Standard Temperature and Pressure (25°C and 101,325 Pa pressure). Unless otherwise specified (and usually noted on nameplate if so) the design optimal point for equipment and it’s testing. Grid equipment has standards for how performance is allowed to degrade away from this point.

    2. Carla

      Mikerw0 says, “We need help and our policicians can’t do the basic math to even understand the issues.”

      I would say “We need help and our politicians are incentivized to not even understand the issues.”

  6. mrsyk

    I think that the huge federal push for electric vehicles is more meant to Look Like They’re Doing Something while inviting corporate interests to some time at the teat, not really to solve anything.
    Coincidently, I topped up the gerry can and treated myself to a brand new 15 amp extension cord for the generator. We’re under a high wind advisory. Random data alert: Google informs me that Vermont electricity is 62% hydro/92% “free of carbon” (whatever that means).

  7. Chas

    I think the USA would benefit greatly from rolling, announced-well-in-advance power black outs. The purpose would be to give people an opportunity to learn about conserving electricity. This would be highly unpopular but valuable in the long run for the nation as a whole.

  8. Gusgus 2021

    My question has always been look at any morning rush hour ,then imagine each car needs 60lb of lithium, how much lithium is there even?

    1. R.A.

      “My question has always been look at any morning rush hour ,then imagine each car needs 60lb of lithium, how much lithium is there even?”

      I agree. The idea that EV’s are environmentally friendly does not take into account the intense mining operations it takes to make all those batteries. As bad as the oil industry has been for the environment, an electrified transport system brings a whole new set of problems.

  9. Mickey Hickey

    Russia has plenty of energy of all types. Energy intensive industries cannot rely on a responsible German government so they are likely to migrate to Russia from where they can cost effectively serve Europe.There may be a house cleaning of federal and provincial gov’ts in upcoming elections. I would not bet on it but it is possible.

  10. Jeff Andrews

    It isn’t possible to replace every car currently on the road to EVs, and completely impossible to keep replacing them, the raw materials quite simply are not available. Even more so with the hyper expensive grid storage batteries. So called renewables like wind and solar are essentially useless as Germany has confirmed with its sudden increase in coal usage.
    At least there won’t be gridlock of any sort at rush hour unless it’s bicycles or pedestrians hiking miles and miles to the suburbs, you think they’ll be buses or trams powered by windmills?

  11. VT Digger

    Each lvl3 charging plug pulls as much as a house at full tilt, 125amps. So each EV station has what, 16-20 houses worth of power flowing through it at all times?

  12. Steven Lesh

    with solar and wind power being the most common renewable energy sources in the U.S., and the development of battery storage facilities in the early stages, the variable energy supply and demand make it difficult to ensure consistent electricity delivery.

    Do a google search for ‘gravity storage’ and you get 104,000 hits. Even for critiques of the electric utilities, the discussion of storage seems to be limited to storage. Why?

    The impossibility of supplying enough battery making resources to electrify transportation has been covered on this site for years. Is the reason only battery storage is considered when discussing storing renewable energy because batteries are the only form the utilities can own and extract economic rent from? If it is a NIMBY issue, maybe those who raise it should be allowed to experience the even uglier consequences of doing without power, An added benefit might be the gravity storage facilities serving as a monumental reminder of the need to limit growth and consumption.

  13. LY

    I’m using Hawaii as a case study, since the state is ahead of other states in electrifying everything.

    As I understand it, Hawaii is dealing with it mainly dynamic pricing. You charge vehicles and run the washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc. at peak producing times. People conserve during peak pricing – which is late afternoon and evening.

    Granted, solar has advantages there, and heating is less of an issue.

    The conclusion I get from this is that electricity pricing is going to be dynamic and people will have to check the rates the way they check the weather. Home electric auto charging already takes that into account, when it recharges when rates are lowest.

    Still have to strengthen and balance out the grid by strengthening regional interconnects, to try to smooth out generation from solar, wind, etc. and deal with the increased demand from climate change.

    1. Not This Again


      1) Hawaii has **insanely** high electricity costs (something like 0.45/kWhr, I think). Part of the reason for this is that it needs to import most of its energy.
      2) Hawaii has an unbelievable amount of sunlight, making solar actually viable.
      3) Hawaii has very little industry

      In other words, Hawaii may be one of the very few places that could make this work.

      So far as I know, most jurisdictions have time of day pricing, btw (?)

      1. tevhatch

        1) Hawaii has **insanely** high electricity costs (something like 0.45/kWhr, I think). Part of the reason for this is that it needs to import most of its energy.

        The real reason is the grid is tiny, In 2020, Hawaii had a total summer capacity of 2,994 MW through all of its power plants. That’s smaller than the output most single power station I’ve participated in building. Now fragment that grid over the islands. Keeping such a tiny grid balanced is a nightmare, but in particular the capital costs per customer are very large.

  14. dean 1000

    It need not be a crisis if politicians and regulators start insisting today that electric utilities maintain and upgrade the grid to existing regulations.
    The B-52 bomber is a prime example of what proper maintenance and upgrades can do. It has been in service since 1954 – 68 years. The Air Force plans to use it through 2050 – 96 years.

    Yes, the money may have been better spent elsewhere but if the electric utilities took their grid responsibilities as seriously there would no looming crisis. The cost(s) of maintaining the grid are tax deductible so there is no excuse for the grid to be so poorly maintained. And no justification for the American Electric Reliability Corporation to blame an ” aging energy infrastructure.”
    The Grid has been reliable to date. It needs serious maintenance and upgrades now. My electric utility is buying some electricity produced by wind turbines instead of using more coal, and has installed 2 EV charging stations at a nearby supermarket.

  15. Paula

    US Army War College released a study on April 1, 2019 titled Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army. In it they stated, “The power grid that serves the United States is aging and continues to operate without a coordinated and significant infrastructure investment. Vulnerabilities exist to electricity-generating power plants, electric transmission infrastructure and distribution system components. Power transformers average over 40 years of age and 70 percent of transmission lines are 25 years or older.” They predicted more frequent, widespread and enduring power grid failures.

  16. Valerie from Australia

    Whenever I read commentary on articles like these, I am always stunned that people are not addressing lifestyle changes and altering energy consumption habits to use less. We don’t need SUVs or huge houses or to heat or cool our buildings to the ideal temperature at all times. As for crypto mining . . . well that sounds like the greatest misuse of energy I have yet to come across. I fear greatly for people who live in areas of extreme temperature who don’t have a lot of options – but how about heating and cooling smaller spaces? When I read about the new and idealised view of nuclear energy – which totally ignores the issue of nuclear waste – it seems all about ensuring our ability to keep using energy at our current level. It seems to me the days of over consumption are over. We need to face this reality and start planning and adjusting our lifestyles to accommodate a more realistic future. I do get that the U.S. energy grid has been sadly neglected, but I don’t see anyone in government leadership (local, state or national) with the will or the intelligence to tackle the problem – and the general public seems oblivious.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Nobody wants to be the one that announces that the party is over and it is time for everybody to go home. it would be interesting as an experiment to ask people whether they would be willing to halve their running water use or halve their electricity usage. I think that a question like that would really put people on the spot.

Comments are closed.