“Solar will supply almost all growth”: Bad news for energy reliability

According to the Long Term Reliability Assessment, a report by the nonprofit organization, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), energy reliability is a growing issue on electricity grids across the country, led by the closure of thermal power plants and an over-reliance on wind and solar facilities to replace them. NERC expects this reliability gap to widen in the coming years.

Unfortunately, analysis from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) affirms the NERC report, predicting the trend of over-reliance on intermittent energy sources like wind and solar will continue through at least 2025.

“We expect solar electric generation will be the leading source of growth in the U.S. electric power sector. In our January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), which contains new forecast data through December 2025, we forecast new capacity will boost the solar share of total generation to 5.6% in 2024 and 7.0% in 2025, up from 4.0% in 2023.”

NERC also expects most new capacity will be solar in the coming years.

At the same time, as shown in the graph above, substantial amounts of coal and natural gas capacity are expected to retire without an adequate replacement of reliable capacity. Wind and solar power facilities can’t be considered “reliable” in the same way as thermal generators like coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants, because they rely on the weather and at times aren’t producing any electricity.

As the NERC report highlights, this will leave the grid at risk for capacity and energy shortfalls, potentially resulting in widespread blackouts.

Reliability concerns will grow as more coal and natural gas plants are retired and as efforts to “electrify” other industries begin increasing electricity demand to new heights. Electricity grids are having trouble as it is supplying normal loads with renewable generation, and they’re nowhere close to being ready for electrification.

These issues aren’t going to be resolved if solar continues to supply “almost all growth” moving forward.

Hopefully, grid operators take note of this alarming trend showcased by EIA, made fully apparent when paired with NERC’s long-term reliability assessment, and start implementing measures to keep reliable plants open and build more in the future.