What's Keeping the Lights On?

Welcome to Grid Brief! Today, we’re looking at what’s keeping the lights on in America’s power markets.

What’s Keeping the Lights On?

Overall, here’s the national generation mix, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nothing too out of the ordinary—natural gas, coal, and nuclear remain the top three sources of power generation in the country.

Here’s a map of America’s major power markets to help you keep track of which region we’re looking at as we drill down.

ISO New England

Natural gas, nuclear, and hydro kept New Englanders cool in an extended summer season. But you’ll noticed little purple hills peeking up on the 6th, 7th, and 8th—that’s petroleum. Whenever we see that pop up in the region’s generation mix it means its grid has strained. So long as New England fails to build new baseload like nuclear power plants (or pipeline infrastructure to the nearby Marcellus formation) it will resort of firing up emissions-heavy oil for a pretty penny to dodge load shedding.

New York ISO

New York had a relatively uneventful week. Natural gas, hydro, and nuclear (followed by small bumps of petroleum) were the main players. During the 10th and 11th it appears a (likely planned) nuclear outage was made up for by “Other.” What makes up the “Other” category in this case was various and sundry enough as to be non-specific. “To maintain generator confidentiality, generation may sometimes be reported in the Other category if too few generators are reported for a particular energy source category,” writes the EIA.


America’s largest power market had a placid and predictable week, as natural gas, nuclear, and coal satisfied the lion’s share of demand.


The Mid-continent Independent System Operator saw some impressive wind output on the 5th and 6th until it subsided. Otherwise, natural gas and coal kept things humming, with nuclear in third place starting at the end of the 6th.

Southwest Power Pool

SWPP has arguably the kookiest/most entertaining looking generation graphs because of the interaction between variable and non-variable resources. Natural gas, coal, and wind dance around each other as the fossil generators ramp up to catch the wind when it lulls.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas

Renewables had a good week in Texas with a sizable output from wind, which outpaced natural gas on the 5th. After that, however, natural gas reclaimed its crown as the king of the Lone Star State. On the 6th, ERCOT issued an EEA 2 and narrowly avoided blackouts.

“Due to low reserves and a drop in frequency, ERCOT entered directly into EEA 2. To protect the stability of the electric system, ERCOT has access to additional reserve sources only available during emergency conditions,” said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT President and CEO. “High demand, lower wind generation, and the declining solar generation during sunset led to lower operating reserves on the grid and eventually contributed to lower frequency, which precipitated the emergency level 2 declaration.”

For a deeper look into Texas’s EEA 2 event, check out Joshua Payne’s op-ed for us from last Friday.

California ISO

Natural gas, solar, and hydro were California’s top three generators over the last week. Solar overtook natural gas several times until the 10th.

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Conversation Starters

  • Italy may be reviving its nuclear industry. “The Italian government wants to reintroduce nuclear power in the country, under a plan announced by the minister of environment, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, who will meet with energy stakeholders on 21 September,” reports Nature. “Matteo Salvini, the minister for infrastructure and transport, said he hopes the first nuclear energy production in Italy could happen within a decade.”

  • The White House pulled its Energy Department nominee. “Jeff Marootian’s nomination to be assistant secretary of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy had been stalled since May, when Manchin, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, scrubbed a committee vote,” reports Bloomberg. “At the time, Manchin argued he was ‘not comfortable moving forward’ with Marootian, who had been tapped to lead the Energy Department division spearheading the stove energy-efficiency rule that the senator opposed.”

  • Petrobras is getting into wind energy. “Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras will present on Wednesday new initiatives aiming to make the company the country's biggest developer of wind energy. Chief Executive Jean Paul Prates and Mauricio Tolmasquim, Petrobras' head of energy transition and sustainability, will present the initiatives, the company said in a statement on Tuesday,” reports Reuters. “Tolmasquim told reporters earlier on Tuesday that Petrobras was evaluating partnerships for greenfield projects and possible mergers and acquisitions, as the firm looks to boost its green energy projects.”

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