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Grid Reliability Needs and How to Resolve Them

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Grid Reliability Needs and How to Resolve Them

April 13, 2022

At the NYISO, keeping the grid reliable is our number-one priority. But what does it mean?

For most consumers, “reliability” simply means keeping the lights on. As a grid operator, keeping the lights on also means looking into the future to make sure the system and its interrelated components will be prepared to meet customer demand.

The grid is facing some of the biggest changes in its history, including New York State’s historic move to a zero-emissions grid by 2040. During this time of transition, it is important to continue maintaining grid reliability. 

Our reliability planning studies identify when and where reliability violations will happen unless action is taken. If we find there is a scenario in which the grid may lack enough energy or transmission capability to serve demand, we declare a “Reliability Need.” How we determine such a designation is guided by mandatory reliability rules and the tariffs under which we operate. Strict reliability rules are set by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council.  Unique to New York, the New York State Reliability Council goes above and beyond national requirements to set the strictest reliability rules in the nation. 

The NYISO applies all of these rules through planning processes in our tariffs, which are established with input from energy market participants and approved by our Board of Directors and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

A "Reliability Need" requires that we take prescribed steps to resolve the problem in a variety of ways: 

  • New energy resources 
  • New or improved transmission
  • Demand reduction solutions

Our role in identifying this need, and what is to be done about it, is part of the complicated process of planning for all future grid needs.

Look to the STARs

We have two methods for determining Reliability Needs.

Four times a year, we do a Short-Term Assessment on Reliability (STAR), which focuses on identifying reliability needs up to five years out. This helps to quickly evaluate changes to the system, such as generator deactivations, changes to the transmission system, or changes in demand that could affect reliability. 

For a longer-term approach, our Reliability Needs Assessment (RNA) looks ahead to 10 years out. This process cycle runs every two years and begins with the development and publishing of the RNA report. 

The RNA looks at both the adequacy of energy resources and limitations of the transmission grid to determine whether the grid will be able to supply enough power to meet demand. During the process, we determine if there’s a Reliability Need that has to be met to ensure reliability under the rules. 

Upcoming changes to the grid make it more likely a Reliability Need may be coming soon, as our reliability margins are dwindling. One factor for this is the deactivation of nuclear and older fossil fuel plants that served load in downstate New York.  Adding to this resource loss is the expected deactivations of some fossil fuel plants in New York City and Long Island in response to the state’s “peaker” rules that created more stringent emission limits. 

Those deactivations will further reduce the generation we have on hand to meet demand on days when we need it most, such as a multi-day heat wave. 

Solving a Reliability Need

What happens if we identify a reliability need through the RNA? 

The first step is to issue a solicitation seeking a developer willing to make new investments in the system. Those investments could include building a new energy resource that would supply the energy to the region where the need is found, improving the transmission network to bring in more energy from elsewhere in the state, or implementing demand reduction that would meet the identified need.

Our first step would be to solicit proposals for new resource development or demand reduction that would solve the need. If sufficient, developers would invest their own funds to implement market-based solutions to meet the need. The NYISO’s markets are designed to encourage private investments that are recouped by selling energy output on the grid. 

At the same time, the NYISO must solicit “backstop” transmission and other permanent solutions in cooperation with the state’s electric utilities and authorities.  The NYISO will trigger such backstop solutions to ensure reliability if market-based solutions will not be built in time. 

If the reliability need is immediate, for instance due to a generator deactivation, the NYISO solicits an immediate solution to fill the gap until market resources or a permanent transmission solution is ready.  These gap solutions include transmission and demand response that can respond quickly to the need.  If no other solutions are ready, the NYISO may execute a temporary “Reliability Must Run,” or RMR agreement with a generator. The RMR agreement compensates a vital resource for operating until a permanent solution can be put in place. This is a critical tool to keep the grid reliable. 

Upgrading the System

The grid is an ever-evolving system, with old generators retiring and new suppliers seeking to connect to the grid, as well as new transmission being added. There are currently more than 400 proposed supply, transmission, and load projects in our Interconnection Queue, under which their impact on the grid is analyzed. All the while, policies are put in place at the local, state, and federal levels which must also be considered and adhered to in interconnecting new resources and maintaining reliability.

As the grid continues to evolve to meet New York’s climate goals, our RNA and other planning processes, as well as the evolving electricity markets, will help us be prepared to keep the lights on. 


To learn more about ensuring power system reliability and a clean energy future, visit our #GridoftheFuture webpage.

We are an independent, not-for-profit corporation responsible for operating the state’s bulk electricity grid, administering New York’s competitive wholesale electricity markets, conducting comprehensive long-term planning for the state’s electric power system, and advancing the technological infrastructure of the electric system serving the Empire State.

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