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Lessons to be learned about reliability

EACH APRIL IN KENTUCKY LIVING we highlight a lot of events and activities. This month we write about adventures along Kentucky’s waterways, and the story brings back a memory from my childhood. 

Growing up in eastern Kentucky, I lived on a hill above Hood Creek. The creek was full of great fishing spots, and the best ones were on the far bank. We would cross the creek and sit on a big rock where we could cast into the shadows. 

One day, when I was 9, my fishing buddies and I were crossing the creek. I wasn’t paying attention, and before I knew it, my feet slid out from under me. I fell into a deep part of the creek, flat on my back. I barely could limp home that day. 

That’s the thing about waterways. You have to watch where you’re stepping. You have to be careful. It makes me think of where we are with electric reliability right now: We’d better watch where we’re stepping. It’s getting slick. 

There are so many factors when we discuss the reliability of the electric grid. Demand is increasing, especially as we add electric vehicles and manufacturing facilities for a number of industries, including EVs. 

At the same time, we’re closing energy plants without good alternatives right now. Coal, natural gas and nuclear plants produce dispatchable energy, which is created as it is needed. You can count on it. Wind turbines and solar panels have great upsides, but they are not dispatchable. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, those resources are not reliable alternatives. Batteries to store this energy on a commercial and industrial scale do not yet exist. 

This past holiday season could serve as a warning sign. When temperatures dipped near or below zero for hours on end, demand increased and, in several cases, parts of the grid couldn’t keep up. 

We have to stay cautious and alert as reliability becomes increasingly critical. If we don’t, we could land flat on our backs. 

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