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Texas on the Brink

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Earlier this summer, I wrote about the troubles Texas was predicted to have keeping up with peak demands through July and August. Why wasn’t the Lone Star State projected to be up to the challenge? Well, there were a number of reasons. On top of high temperatures, there’s been significant load growth over the last year in various Texan cities. Nowhere has that growth been more pronounced than in the capital, Austin. Once a funky little college town, Austin has led the nation in population growth for the past eight years. Drawn in by good weather and a booming tech-sector, people just can’t seem to get enough of  Texas’ 4th largest town. Compounding Texas’ situation, the 470-megawatt (MW) Gibbons Creek coal-fired plant shut down earlier this year. Although there are plans for new plants in the future, to this point that generation has not been replaced. 

Well, although it took a while, it looks like the state’s grid might finally be at the brink. Weeks of three digit temperatures pushed ERCOT, Texas’ grid operator, to issue Energy Emergency Alert for the first time in five and-a-half years on Tuesday. Luckily, they haven’t yet been forced to use rolling black outs, but the warning means that wasn’t far off. The last time ERCOT issued the warning was way back in January, 2014, when Texas was hit with an extreme cold spell. 

Although the warning has been lifted, Texans aren’t out of the woods just yet. We’re only half way through August and temperatures could continue to climb. I’m not sure how back to school could affect power demand. On one hand, schools will be up and consuming more electricity, but households may be able to cutback with kids away during the day. 

It will be interesting to see how ERCOT and Texas utilities respond over the next year. Let’s hope a solution is in place by summer 2020.

Henry Craver's picture

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 16, 2019 5:18 pm GMT

This is definitely the lightning rod topic of the week, and it'll be interesting to see in the coming weeks/months how the conversation around the ERCOT grid develops. One noteworthy item I read was about how DR was a bigger part of meeting this demand than it had ever been previously, and it showed the power of DR on the markets as a temporary way to address excess demand. I'll have to dig to see where I read this though so I can share...

Michael Overturf's picture
Michael Overturf on Aug 20, 2019 2:50 pm GMT

ERCOT is a power-only market, steadfastly refusing to steer capacity commitments with a capacity market.  This has worked thanks to wind subsidies (a distortion), and really cheap gas (free in many cases, but unconnected), and coal and oil before that, so people could actually make money in that market.  But the combination of once-a-month 15 minute price adders and skinny power markets in the sub $20's are laying bare the limitations of this approach.  Nobody will come fix it now without a reliable and structural incentive.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 20, 2019 7:16 pm GMT

Michael, a market which exists solely to guarantee available energy at a specific date and time in the future makes no sense with intermittent sources like wind and solar.

Without guarantees, what's the purpose?

John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Aug 21, 2019 6:52 pm GMT

It would be interestimg to see how much wind generation was producing during the extreme periods of high temperatures.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 21, 2019 8:57 pm GMT

If you're into diving into the data for yourself, ERCOT makes that available! http://www.ercot.com/gridinfo/generation

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