Podcast: Is the manufacturing industry prepared for a hyper complex energy grid?

Podcast: Is the manufacturing industry prepared for a hyper complex energy grid?

May 7, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, Brian Reinke from TDI Energy Solutions explores the many changes and challenges affecting the electric grid.

Brian Reinke is president of TDI Energy Solutions, a company that offers energy cost-saving products and services that are designed to help clients be more efficient and profitable. Brian founded the company after 20 years in the IT industry with the goal of helping customers through the maze of energy use and cost reduction. Brian recently spoke with Robert Brooks, editor in chief of America Machinist, about manufacturers’ anxiety over sources and availability of electric power.

Below is an excerpt from the podcast:

AM: You know, when you and I were first introduced, it was in the context of users’ demand. And you helped me to understand very well how independent manufacturers can make themselves more self-sufficient and less dependent on the variabilities here. And that had a lot to do with the commercial availability that utilities would have. They would give manufacturers, you know, off peak rates and various types of arrangements. But lately, and for several years, you've been stressing the need for manufacturers to secure and manage their electricity supplies. But now, what we're being presented with is a situation that's even worse than people could have imagined. And you've described it to me as a hyper complex risk environment. So, could you bring us to that point and why did you call it that?

BR: I actually stole that phrase from the head of NERC, the North American Energy Reliability Corporation. They've been beating that drum for a while now, several years. They do reliability forecast assessments to see, for the next several years, if their resources will be able to meet the anticipated demand. I ran across that phrase when I found a presentation that Jim Robb, NERC president and CEO, gave at a Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) meeting. And he brought that up. He said in the presentation to MISO, “Present day, the electric sector risk environment has rapidly evolved and is hyper complex, stemming from grid transformation, increasingly frequent extreme weather systems, escalating physical and cyber security threats.” And I just want to cover the categories that he had brought up.

At the top of the list was rapidly changing resource mix, and I think he actually understated it. Retirements of traditional generation, natural gas interdependencies, inverter-based resource integration, and DER performance and visibility. I'll just briefly describe each of those. So, these baseload generators, coal and natural gas, that are spinning all the time, they're called spinning resources. Those are being retired at an alarmingly fast rate. We'll see another quote in just a minute. Many of the new generation resources are using natural gas as a fuel. And during extreme weather, what they found sometimes was a natural gas distribution system would freeze up. And these power plants didn't have a reserve fuel supply on site, so they would go dark. It would just cause all kinds of craziness.

About the Author

Robert Brooks

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)

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