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Everything you need to know about the extreme heat’s effect on the Texas power grid


Dalia Faheid, Fort Worth Star-Telegram  

 

    With weekend temperatures forecast to climb into the high 90s, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is expecting a higher demand for energy, which could result in Texans losing power.

    “ERCOT is issuing an [Operating Condition Notice] for Extreme Hot Weather with forecasted temperatures to be above 94°F in the North Central and South Central weather zones, from Friday, May 6, 2022 until Monday, May 9, 2022,” the grid operator wrote on its public notices page.

    On Thursday afternoon, ERCOT announced the tight grid conditions could last through Wednesday as temperatures remain in the upper 90s.

    Because the grid has proven to be unreliable in the recent past, you might be wondering what factors contribute to the tight conditions. Here are the answers to questions you might have about how the extreme heat could impact the state’s power grid, plus what you should do to stay safe in a potential power outage.

    Is Texas getting hotter?

    A report from Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon found that extreme heat is approaching numbers not seen since the early part of the 20th century and is likely to surpass them by 2036.

    “Texas climate is affected by changing patterns of vegetation, irrigation, and urbanization,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “Texas climate is also embedded in the global climate system, which is itself changing.”

    Average Texas temperatures in 2036 are expected to be 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1991-2020 average and 3 degrees warmer than the 1950-1999 average.

    “This would make a typical year around 2036 warmer than all but the absolute warmest year experienced in Texas during 1895-2020,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

    Nielsen-Gammon projects that Texas will experience more 100-degree days, more extreme rainfall, more urban flooding, greater hurricane intensity and increased drought severity by 2036, a prospect that worries 77% of Texas voters.

    How do outages happen in hot weather?

    Texas temperatures could reach as high as 105 degrees this Saturday and Sunday, which the National Weather Service says is 15 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year.

    “A warming trend will push temperatures well above normal with some highs around 100 degrees possible,” the weather service reported.

    An increased demand for air conditioning during hot weather can overload electric lines, transformers, and other equipment, according to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. When that happens, circuit breakers shut off power to prevent damage to the electrical system, causing a power outage.

    Officials also can institute blackouts by shutting off power to some areas when operating reserves are running low.

    Demand is expected to reach 69,300 megawatts this Saturday and 70,459 on Sunday. That would be even higher than the peak demand during Winter Storm Uri, which neared 70,000 megawatts.

    Energy consultant Doug Lewin said in a tweet that the previous record demand for May was around 67,000 megawatts. He attributes the new high to a combination of population growth, extreme heat and lack of energy efficiency. Texas gets 80% less efficient energy than the average state, Lewin said, which particularly hurts us in extreme temperatures.

    Along with the heightened demand due to heat, tight conditions this weekend are happening because about 20,000 megawatts of power lines are out for maintenance, UT Austin energy expert Joshua Rhodes said on Twitter. The maintenance is scheduled to be completed by May 15.

    How will heat affect the Texas power grid?

    Texans are uneasy hearing about tight grid conditions after the February 2021 storm caused power outages across the state that killed more than 200 people. Since then, ERCOT has issued several warnings about high demand causing potential power outages and asked residents to conserve energy.

    Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier this year that “the Texas power grid is more reliable and resilient than it has ever been.”

    Thomas Overbye, a power grid expert at Texas A&M, said that while the grid is better off than it was for the freeze, extremely high temperatures and other extreme weather events could push it over the edge.

    “What we can do, and what the electric utility industry is working to do, is to minimize the likelihood of such blackouts when they can’t be totally prevented,” Overbye said in January. “This involves looking at the likelihood of a given extreme event, and then taking appropriate measures to make the electric grid more resilient to that event.”

    ERCOT, the state agency that oversees Texas’ power grid, which is separate from other grids in the U.S., said it’s planning to “deploy all the tools available to us to manage the grid reliably.” A spokesperson said ERCOT is working closely with the Public Utility Commission, generation resource owners and transmission utilities to ensure they are prepared for the extreme heat. And it’s asked power plants across Texas to postpone planned outages and to return from in-progress outages in order to prepare for the weekend.

    Last week, the Texas Electricity Supply Chain Security and Mapping Committee adopted the state’s first electricity supply chain map, which state emergency management officials are planning to use during weather emergencies and disasters to pinpoint the location of critical electric and natural gas facilities and emergency contact information for those facilities.

    How can you conserve power during the heat?

    Because energy usage increases in the hot weather, conservation can reduce the strain on the electric system.

    It can also help you save some money. The average monthly Texas electric bill is around $128.50. As the heat rolls in, Texans will be cranking up their air conditioning, likely causing a spike in electricity rates.

    To minimize your electricity usage, follow these tips by AARP Texas:

    How can you prepare for a heat-related power outage?

    While ERCOT says there’s sufficient generation to meet this weekend’s high demand for electricity, it’s best to be prepared in case of power outages. You can monitor grid conditions through ERCOT’s online dashboard.

    Oncor Electric Delivery Company, the largest transmission and distribution electric utility in Texas, says it’s monitoring this weekend’s weather and is prepared to respond to any outages. To report an outage, call 888-313-4747, text OUT to 66267, use the MyOncor app or select “Report an Outage” located above the map. If you see a downed power line, stay away and call 9-1-1 immediately.

    Here’s how to handle a heat-related outage, according to the Red Cross and Safe Electricity:

    Before

    Consider purchasing battery-powered fans.

    During

    Stay on the coolest, lowest level of your home.

    Unplug major equipment, including air conditioning units, computers and televisions.

    After

    Stay clear of downed power lines at all times.

    How can you stay safe during a heat-related power outage?

    AARP Texas says extreme heat can be especially dangerous for older or medically vulnerable Texans.

    Here’s how to prevent heat-related illness if your power goes out, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services:

    Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

    Pull the shades over all the windows and use cross-ventilation and fans to cool rooms.

    If your home does not have air conditioning, look for a heat-relief shelter in your area.

    Take a dip in cool water.

    If you’re outside, rest in a shady area.

    Cut down on exercise.

    Wear sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher and a hat.

    Avoid hot and heavy meals, caffeinated drinks and alcohol.

    Drink plenty of fluids.

    Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

    Check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat when taking prescription drugs, especially diuretics, antibiotics or antihistamines.

    Call 2-1-1 for health information and 9-1-1 in an emergency.

    According to DSHS, symptoms of heat exposure complications include:

    How to help a person showing these symptoms:

    What will this summer’s power demand look like?

    Power demand this summer could reach as high as 77,732 megawatts, according to ERCOT projections. That would beat the current record for peak summer demand at 74,000 megawatts. By comparison, peak demand last summer was 73,650 megawatts.

    And power usage will continue to rise for the next decade, with a peak of 86,233 megawatts forecast for the summer of 2031.

    “While it is going to be too hot too early this year, these types of temperatures are normal for summer,” Rhodes said. “However, when the inevitable August afternoons come, we should also have more power plants!”

    ©2022 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit star-telegram.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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