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Highlights

Day-long meeting on grid reliability set for June 25

Changing resource mix, cyber threats teed up for discussion

Washington — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced its annual deep dive into the reliability of the bulk power system will take place June 25.

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Last year, the commission took on the double-edged sword technological advances bring to the utility sector, with panels focused on the opportunities and challenges cloud-based services, virtualization and emerging 5G networks present to the grid.

A recent notice revealed that this year's commissioner-led conference will tackle the changing resource mix, inverter-based resources and inverter-connected distributed energy resources and cybersecurity.

The day-long event generally also includes a presentation and discussion of the North American Electric Reliability Corp.'s latest reliability report. That annual report looks at grid performance over the prior year and analyzes industrywide trends in an effort to inform electricity companies, regulators and policymakers of emerging reliability risks and shed light on whether mitigation activities for known challenges are leading to system improvements.

NERC's report last year found that despite concerns raised by the Trump administration, the retirement of baseload generation and influx of renewables has not created insurmountable reliability challenges.

The changing resource mix, however, continues to be a point of contention as low natural gas prices and more zero-marginal-cost renewables on the system have made it difficult for certain resources, including nuclear plants seen by some as key to meeting aggressive carbon reduction targets, to compete.

NEW CHALLENGES

The rapid growth of inverter-based generation like wind and solar has also brought attention to new challenges and regulatory gaps.

California Independent System Operator, for instance, had to implement tariff changes last year to prevent events in which hundreds of megawatts of inverter-based resources trip offline and cause immediate reliability issues.

The grid operator has pointed to inverter-based generation problems as a threat to grid resilience at a time when the volume of renewable resources that use inverters has dramatically increased and is expected to continue to grow as California and other states pursue clean energy mandates.

Inverters change the frequency of power so that it can be put on the grid. Inverter-based generators are programmed to trip offline when they detect a transmission fault that might harm them. The problem is that these inverters often trip when a grid fault is momentary and poses no risk of harm. While FERC and NERC have rules requiring inverters to ride through certain faults, Cal-ISO had to propose new tariff language to rectify the problem in its region.

FERC approved those tariff changes in April 2019, but acknowledged that more work may be needed going forward to respond to future grid topology and technology advancement.

As for cybersecurity, government and industry officials have painted a daunting picture of nefarious nation-state actors who seek to disrupt US power and natural gas systems and other critical infrastructure through cyberattacks. Though a cyberattack has yet to cause any generation outages or blackouts in the US, increasingly sophisticated attempts to disrupt power grid operations have, for instance, created temporary blind spots for grid operators.

FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee has made it clear that cybersecurity is a top priority for the agency, and in November announced organizational changes intended to better focus resources on evolving cyber threats to the US power and gas industries.