The Electric Reliability Council of Texas anticipates record-breaking electricity demand of 77,317 megawatts this summer, which is expected to be a scorching one.
With the season only weeks away and record temperatures expected, Texans are worried the power grid can’t handle the heat. In May, Texans were asked to conserve energy after six power plants went offline amid a heat wave.
Concern about the lights staying on in the state is warranted. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation warns that Texas, along with the central and upper Midwest and Southern California, faces an increased risk of power outages this summer from extreme heat, wildfires and extended drought.
“A combination of extreme peak demand, low wind, and high outage rates from thermal generators could require system operators to use emergency procedures, up to and including temporary manual load shedding,” NERC says.
The NERC report cited incidents in May and June 2021 when Texas experienced solar farm shutdowns, which disrupted power plants, interfered with grid recovery operations and caused outages of power units.
Will Summer 2022 be hotter than normal?
All signs point to a hotter than normal summer.
Spring drought and high winds, like we’ve experienced this year, indicate that we could have record-setting summer temperatures.
The Climate Prediction Center projects that Texas will have a warmer than normal summer, particularly in central and western Texas, and in the Panhandle.
Why is there such high electricity demand in Texas?
Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston, says the main reason for the record demand is the population growth that Texas is seeing.
Texas is the fastest-growing state in the country, adding nearly four million people between 2010 and 2020.
Last year, peak demand was at about 74,000 megawatts, about 4% less than this year’s projection.
Can the power grid handle record demand?
ERCOT said the state’s power grid is prepared for a hot summer despite generator failures in May.
“This grid is more reliable than it has ever been before,” said Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
ERCOT anticipates there will be 91,392 megawatts available during peak demand this summer, along with 2,895 megawatts of emergency resources. That leaves a buffer of 22.8% if peak demand is higher than the expected 77,317 megawatts.
“The ERCOT region is expected to have sufficient installed generating capacity to serve peak demands in the upcoming summer season, June - September 2022, under normal system conditions and most of the reserve capacity risk scenarios examined,” according to ERCOT’s report.
ERCOT’s Summer 2022 assessment indicates a low risk (6% probability) of declaring a Level 1 Energy Emergency Alert during peak hours, from 6:00–8:00 p.m. The overall daily risk is lower than for Summer 2021, which was at 12% risk.
Hirs says that we’ll have 63,514 megawatts of thermal resources available if all the power plants stay online, less than in past years.
“Texas hasn’t allowed the generation companies to make enough money to keep up their equipment and so many of them have left the grid,” Hirs said. “So we have less generation capacity of coal and natural gas in particular on the ERCOT grid than we did in 2010.”
Along with natural gas and coal, we’ll need 14,000 to 15,000 megawatts of renewable energy on the grid. If we get extreme weather this summer, that may interfere with those renewable resources, he said.
What should you expect?
Under extreme weather that removes renewable electricity generation or damages part of the grid, or if power plants go offline, Texans could experience rolling blackouts during the summer.
It’s more likely that ERCOT will ask Texans to conserve energy this summer by turning thermostats to 78 degrees avoiding use of appliances during peak hours, Hirs said.
“Everybody needs to expect higher electricity prices,” Hirs says. “Be prepared for volatile service and volatile prices.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission predicts that electricity prices could be 233% higher than last summer.
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