ENVIRONMENT

Texans Asked To Conserve Energy As Main Power Grid Struggles To Keep Up

Grid operator ERCOT came under fire earlier this year for dangerous power outages that left millions without electricity and hundreds dead.

The operator of Texas’ main power grid has asked residents to conserve power until the end of the week, citing “tight grid conditions” amid potential record demand.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said in a statement that the state’s power grid ― which operates separately from the rest of the country ― is facing a number of power plant outages combined with heightened electricity use. 

Generator owners have reported about 11,000 megawatts of forced outage for repairs, according to ERCOT. Of that number, about 8,000 megawatts are thermal; the rest are intermittent resources. A typical range of thermal generation outages on hot summer days is about 3,600 megawatts. One megawatt normally powers about 200 homes on a summer day, meaning the offline energy generation is enough to power 2.2 million homes on a hot summer day.

ERCOT’s peak June energy demand record was 69,123 megawatts on June 27, 2018. The peak demand on Monday is expected to exceed 73,000 megawatts.

“We will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service,” said Woody Rickerson, vice president of ERCOT’s grid planning and operations. “This is unusual for this early in the summer season.”

The operator recommends that Texans set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights and pool pumps, and avoid using large appliances such as ovens, washing machines and dryers. Residents are also asked to turn off and unplug unused electric appliances.

ERCOT’s request comes months after a severe winter storm left many Texans facing extremely dangerous power outages. The outages left millions without electricity and heat for days, and may have killed as many as 700 people, according to an analysis of mortality data by BuzzFeed News. The operator, grid and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) dealt with intense backlash over their mishandling of the outages.

Unlike the rest of the continental U.S., Texas intentionally operates on its own, mostly isolated network. State lawmakers consider their power grid not having federal oversight to be a feature and not a bug. But isolating the power grid also means it’s incredibly challenging to bring in outside power in times of need.

Texas’ peak periods of energy demand typically happen in the summer, and ERCOT has historically been able to meet that demand. But with several power plants out of commission and demand higher than it has been in past years, the grid is struggling to keep up with extreme weather.