An ERCOT emergency alert raises questions about the design of Texas’ power grid for summer heat

Record demands this summer on Texas’ power grid, including this week when low reserves prompted an energy emergency alert, suggest the system isn’t designed for what could be the new reality of extreme heat, one expert says.

Michael Weber, a professor of energy resources in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas, told the Star-Telegram that the prolonged heat wave creates different scenarios than the previous summer.

“My impression is that we designed our network to manage peak demand from 4 to 6 p.m. during the summer. That made us vulnerable during the winter storm (of 2021) and also makes us vulnerable at 8 p.m. because it’s still very hot at that time,” he said. “.

Weber noted that the temperature was still around 100 degrees in North Texas when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued a power emergency on Wednesday.

ERCOT said it set a new record on Wednesday for peak demand in September at 82,704 megawatts. This summer, ERCOT set 10 records for all-time peak demand, following 11 days of record demand last year.

On Wednesday, the agency came close to calling for continuous power outages to stabilize the grid. On Thursday, Texans were again asked to voluntarily maintain power through the early evening.

ERCOT said the tight grid conditions were caused by “a variety of factors including high temperatures, persistent high demand, low wind power, no solar generation at the end of the day, and issues related to power generation issues from South Texas that” restricted power generation. Power to the rest of the grid.

Heat accumulates in the soil, on sidewalks, streets and other surfaces, Weber said. Other experts say extreme and exceptional drought conditions in 40% of Texas are exacerbating the heat.

“I’m concerned about the low temperatures at night,” Weber said. “We have a new demand profile. We’re not used to the V-shaped curve that creates demand at 8 p.m.”

He added that wind and solar power generation declined at night, but batteries made a “huge difference” in storing electricity.

Last month, ERCOT’s board approved a project called the CPS Energy-San Antonio South Reliability Regional Planning Group that will improve system conditions and congestion in South Texas.

ERCOT issued several calls this summer to voluntarily conserve power during peak times. Major industries that require a lot of electricity have reduced their operations during those times.

Tony Bennett, president and CEO of the Texas Manufacturers Association, issued a statement Wednesday saying: “Industrial loads were called to shut down their operations and help stabilize the grid, and they responded. Many of them have voluntarily reduced their usage, while ERCOT has reserved others in advance to handle this type of unforeseen situation.

If energy supply and demand are not balanced, this can cause so-called frequency drops on the power grid which can damage the grid if conditions do not improve.

The network frequency must be balanced at a frequency between 60.1 Hz per second and 59.9 Hz per second over the entire network. The frequency level dropped on Wednesday to 59.77 Hz.

Texas “is obsessed with electricity supply, but more can be done in terms of demand response in terms of turning down thermostats before 4 p.m. to cool homes and buildings and then turning up the temperature after 4 p.m. when demand starts to peak,” Weber said.

He also encouraged greater use of wind and solar energy, which can be built faster than a natural gas-fired power plant.

“Wind and solar are the only things we can build fast enough to keep up with demand,” he said.

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