Over the summer, the U.S. and Europe experienced heat waves that ignited raging fires and caused undue human suffering. In the U.S., in places like Texas, the extreme weather forced power grid operators to implement rarely used emergency measures to avoid rolling blackouts amid surging electricity demand. Wholesale electricity prices skyrocketed to $5,000 per megawatt-hour as consumers cranked up their AC to stay cool.

In North Carolina, multiple days of 100-degree Fahrenheit weather put the power grid under almost unbearable strain. The state utility registered a one-day summertime record for electricity usage, peaking at 21,086 megawatt-hours of electricity.

Ahead of the summer season, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) had warned that the majority of the U.S. power grid was at risk of failure, unable to support the increased consumption brought on by the heat waves experienced in Texas, the Carolinas and much of the U.S. this past summer. With climate change, these extreme weather events are becoming more common and severe.

For many years, grid reliability wasn’t such a pressing issue because most of our power was generated by fossil fuels, including natural gas, which, unlike renewables, never stops flowing, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Today, however, the grid relies much more on renewable sources, including solar and wind power, which account for about 12% of U.S. electric generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Building a more sustainable grid

The fact that solar and wind generate more of our electricity is good since we can’t lower emissions to the levels required to address climate change without transitioning away from fossil fuels, which are the primary driver of climate change. The challenge is that solar and wind power are intermittent sources that only generate electricity when the sun shines, or the wind blows.

More concerning is that the events in Texas and the Carolinas are happening as power generation from renewables and the adoption of electric vehicles (EV) have yet to grow significantly. The grid crisis could actually get far worse as more wind and solar power come online and more drivers transition to EVs.

Remedying that would require the build-out of more power lines, which the U.S. plans to do. As part of President Biden’s infrastructure law, the U.S. Department of Energy has launched the Building a Better Grid Initiative to upgrade the national grid network.

While this initiative is a valuable and necessary first step, sophisticated infrastructure like power grids can take years to upgrade or build. What’s more, not many people want to deal with large grid networks in their backyard. This reality calls for additional decentralized solutions, developed at the microgrid level.

An AI-Powered Energy Storage System (ESS)

The solution is to optimize the current grid with Energy Storage Systems (ESS) powered by AI algorithms so that stored renewable power is offloaded and used when needed. Applied to EV charging, next-gen ESS could ensure large EV fleets can recharge their batteries without overstressing the grid. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which for the first time extends tax credits to the type of stand-alone energy storage devices the grid needs to efficiently distribute wind and solar power, is a step in the right direction in helping deploy this type of critical grid solution.

An ESS+AI-powered solution could predict the best times to offload and store power from renewables. This would make it possible for grid operators to provide sufficient electricity during peak hours to stabilize the grid and provide EV operators with clean power to recharge their vehicles at the lowest possible prices. These efficiencies would reduce the world’s reliance on energy generated from fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to EVs.

As the world transitions to a Net-Zero future, SK is investing in a full spectrum of solutions that strengthen grid reliability and lower carbon emissions. Last year SK E&S, an SK Group energy company, acquired Key Capture Energy, a developer, owner, and operator of energy storage projects in the U.S. It also recently invested in EverCharge, a maker of advanced EV charging stations designed to manage and control electric power loads, ensuring more EVs can efficiently recharge at a single location.

A more robust grid through innovation

This past summer’s extreme weather events were a stark reminder that climate change is happening now and addressing it requires an ambitious upgrade of our energy system away from fossil fuels. Without fundamental solutions, renewables will curb emissions but at a cost that will include more rolling blackouts. We, therefore, need a grid network optimized to distribute ever-growing loads of renewables. AI algorithms deployed at scale to improve grid reliability without adding costly new transmission and distribution infrastructure could help do that.