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Home Energy America’s EV heartland struggles with increased power outages

America’s EV heartland struggles with increased power outages


Power outages cost the state of Michigan $3.5 billion in 2021 — more than twice as much as 2020, a new report has found.

The increase in outages pointed to rising unreliability in the Midwestern grid, according to the report by nonprofit group Local Solar for All.

And it’s a problem that is getting worse. Most of the U.S. grid faces a high risk of electricity shortfalls by 2027, the North American Reliability Council found in December.

Michigan in particular is a ground zero for these shortages. In 2021, the average business or residence experienced average outages lasting 14.8 hours — as opposed to outages the previous year, which were only 6.9 hours on average.

It’s a grim irony for a state that — as home to Ford and General Motors — is positioning itself as a new manufacturing center of American batteries and electric vehicles (EVs). 

“We are living in extraordinary times, from an electric industry perspective,” John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, said in December, according to Utility Drive. 

“There are extraordinary reliability challenges and opportunities in front of us,” Moura added.

The areas at high-risk for electricity shortfalls hug the east bank of the MIssissippi River up to the Great Lakes, NERC found.

In particular, the Midwestern grid, — the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO — faces a growing 1,300 megawatt shortfall as soon as this summer.

California is also at “high risk,” NERC found. Most of the western U.S. is at “elevated” risk of shortfalls, as is New England. 

That shortfall is rising because the disconnection of fossil fuels and nuclear generation is accelerating faster than the construction and connection of new resources — as grid managers face new demands from cryptocurrency and the need to charge new electric vehicles, NERC found.

In his December comments, Moura also singled out the risk from extreme weather. The grid is “impacted by changing weather more than it ever has been,” he said. “It’s vitally important that we’re planning and operating power systems that can be resilient to extreme weather.”

Michigan received a foretaste of such disruptions last August, when severe thunderstorms knocked out power to 400,000 homes across the Detroit metro area — home of Ford and General Motors.

The outages left hundreds of thousands of people without power for multiple days, following a long, difficult process of returning to normal, the Local Solar report found.

“The economies of Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and everywhere in between were completely disrupted, but more importantly families were out of power, without air-conditioning, and without any ability to keep perishable food and medicine from spoiling,” the authors wrote.

“The data shows an electric grid that is too expensive. We need to reimagine it to build in greater resiliency and lower costs for everyone,” says Robin Dutta, Campaign Director for Local Solar for All. 

These outages represent more than a mere inconvenience, Jenna Warmuth, midwest regional director of advocacy group Vote Solar, said in a statement.

“An unreliable grid can be harmful to health and detrimental to long-term wealth building,” Warmuth said. Utility customers “deserve a grid that supports prosperous and healthy communities.”

The solution, Warmuth said, was more “distributed energy” like local solar. 

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