Managing the Heat: How RTOs Ensure Energy Reliability During Extreme Weather Events


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We have yet to reach the Fourth of July but the first significant heat wave of summer of 2024 has sent temperatures skyrocketing into the mid-to-upper 90s across a large portion of the country. Many communities haven’t seen heat like this in years, and officials have been opening cooling centers and community pools to help residents cool off and avoid heat-related health issues like heatstroke and heat exhaustion – which could turn deadly. Be sure to read up on some helpful tips to stay cool this summer from Fox News.

A surge in heat means a surge in power demand (and electricity bills) as millions turn up their AC to manage the heat.  In fact, FirstEnergy spokesperson Todd Meyers said that the longer the heat wave extends, the more demand and stress is placed on power infrastructure. 

The heat wave not only poses health risks but also underscores the critical need for a reliable energy grid. This is where Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) come into play. RTOs are non-profit organizations authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to implement and operate wholesale markets, conduct planning, and balance the interconnected transmission system. Their role is crucial in enhancing energy reliability, especially during extreme weather conditions including heat waves, which can strain the energy infrastructure and reduce the efficiency of various energy sources.

One of the primary functions of RTOs is balancing the load across a vast interconnected network. By monitoring real-time conditions, they can effectively redistribute power from areas where energy generation is higher to areas where it is most needed due to extreme weather, scheduled maintenance, or cyber-attack. This ensures a steady and reliable energy supply, even in unpredictable circumstances. RTOs also work to reduce bottlenecks in the transmission system. Through their planning and operational functions, they can identify and alleviate transmission impediments, ensuring smooth and efficient electricity flow. 

Furthermore, RTOs play a significant role in diversifying energy sources and facilitating the optimal utilization of the most cost-effective and efficient energy generators available at any given time. They operate wholesale markets that include a variety of energy sources such as wind, hydro, nuclear, and solar alongside traditional generation sources. This diversification helps reduce dependency on any single source and enhances overall grid reliability. When efficiency drops for one generation source, RTOs can easily tap into other energy sources to maintain the balance, ensuring that the energy supply remains stable and reliable. This market-driven approach also ensures that customers receive the most efficient and cost-effective electricity available. This helps maintain the affordability of the energy supply in an effort to keep our electric bills reasonable.

In addition to balancing the load and diversifying energy sources, RTOs enhance the resilience of the energy grid. RTO administrators have the expertise and infrastructure to quickly respond to changing conditions. If energy output drops suddenly due to temperature spikes (or drops), RTOs can adjust grid operations and maintain continuous power delivery. This capability is crucial for ensuring that the grid remains resilient and reliable, even in the face of extreme weather conditions.

Finally, RTOs provide market monitoring to ensure fair and efficient operations. In some regions, RTOs operate capacity markets to ensure that there is enough generation capacity available to match future needs. This forward-looking approach helps secure reliable generation and ensures that the power grid is able to meet growing demand. By keeping a close eye on market conditions, RTOs can take proactive measures to maintain the stability and reliability of the energy grid.

The first significant heat wave of the summer of 2024 shines a light on the imperative of a reliable and resilient energy grid. RTOs play a vital role in managing and optimizing the flow of energy from its source to consumers (and air conditioners). Their efforts are essential for maintaining a stable and reliable energy supply, especially during extreme weather conditions of all kinds. By leveraging their extensive expertise and infrastructure, RTOs ensure that the energy grid remains efficient and reliable, helping to meet the growing energy demands and support the continued success of our nation’s electric grid.