On Christmas Eve, half a million North Carolinians were impacted by rolling blackouts during an extreme cold snap. It brought electric reliability to the forefront of public thought once again.
Duke Energy said the cause of the blackouts was a combination of reliance on unavailable purchased power from neighboring utilities and under-performance from key energy resources: two coal plants and a natural gas one. The plants were impacted by weather, causing components to freeze and drastically reduce energy production. Their backup, generators in neighboring utilities, had no power to spare since they experienced the same cold snap.
Importantly, the utility explained that the rolling blackouts had absolutely nothing to do with reliance on solar or other forms of renewable energy, which performed without incident throughout the extreme cold. The key to reliable power flow and a resilient grid is diversity. As demonstrated on Christmas Eve, natural gas and coal can’t always perform at 100% during extreme conditions.
One energy resource North Carolina has yet to take advantage of is offshore wind energy. A combination of offshore and land-based wind will be a key component to diversifying and strengthening our grid reliability and resiliency in the state as we shift to a decarbonized energy system.
Wind turbines offer built-in storm resilience with their ability to feather their blades out of the wind when gusts are too extreme, otherwise providing a significant amount of power as weather systems blow through. Based on the strong wind profiles throughout the time of the blackouts, a 1600 MW project off the coast of North Carolina would have produced enough energy to fulfill the deficit that the Duke Energy grid experienced.
A reliable grid isn’t just about the quantity of resources, but having the right resources at the right time. With several potential offshore wind projects off the coast of North Carolina, the question changes from, will we want to include offshore wind in our energy portfolio, to how soon can we get offshore wind online to keep our grid reliable and resilient.
Katharine Kollins, Raleigh