As communities take action to slow the spread of COVID-19, one thing 10 million people across seven states don't have to worry about is having clean, reliable low-cost electricity from the nation's largest public power provider - the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"TVA has detailed plans in place for dealing with business continuity issues, including significant infectious disease events like a pandemic," says Patrick Walshe, TVA Transmission Operations and Analysis manager.
Walshe's team provides electric load forecasting for TVA. While power demand is typically lower this time of year due to mild seasonal temperatures, Walshe said TVA is ready for any contingency.
"Although schools and some businesses are shut down, we are still close to expected energy demand because of increased residential consumption," he explains.
TVA reports little change in overall power demand usage during the pandemic. Power sales are dropping across the industry, and the utility is anticipating a drop in power sales as large industrial customers shut down to prevent the spread of the virus to their workers.
Walshe says not to worry, "We don't have any issues meeting electric demand. We are managing the normal fluctuations of a diminishing load at night and we continue to manage that well."
Planning and Flexibility
Cameron Lawson manages TVA's Balancing Authority, which maintains reliable electricity throughout the Tennessee Valley, and believes TVA is doing well anticipating the demand for electricity. "We have a lot of energy data from other countries impacted by the coronavirus," he says. "We proactively work with our power plant teams to manage minimum loads in the evening and peaks during the day."
Lawson explains that managing the minimum load is just as important as being ready to meet peak demand. That's because it's expensive to start and stop electric plants. Rather than shutting off plants that might be needed to meet peak demand the following day, Lawson looks for ways to reduce power production. TVA power plants like TVA's 1600 megawatt pump storage facility at Raccoon Mountain help offset load by generating enough power for almost 1 million homes by day and then using power at night to pump water back into the reservoir for use the next day.
"Our system operators are working closely with operators at TVA's generating facilities to balance the load and ensure continued reliable power," says Lawson. "As larger industrial customers scale back operations, we continue to manage the shifting load."
In addition to turning down gas or fossil units when we have lower demand, if necessary, TVA can sell any additional power to other utilities to help their customers. "We work closely with power operations and transmission field crews to provide reliable power thought the valley. Flexible planning keeps us ready for any changes in demand."