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Blog Jul 19, 2022

Extreme Weather & Texas’s Power Grid Vulnerability

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“Summer begins with a record-setting heat wave.”

“Scorching temperatures rise to 110 degrees.” 

“Texas breaks power demand record during June heat wave.”

These are just some of the latest weather headlines, with no relief in sight for Texas residents. May and June brought extreme heat and dry conditions. July is typically the second driest month of the year (after February) for the Lone Star State, and triple-digit temperatures are expected to continue.

As a result, the Texas power grid, which carries 90% of the power load for 26 million Texans, is feeling the strain. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the organization that manages the grid, has already issued conservation alerts this summer for residents to reduce usage. This includes calling for residents to set their AC to 78 degrees or higher and avoid using large appliances during peak hours (between 2 p.m.-8 p.m.). If needed, controlled, rotating outages for 45 minutes could be the next step.

 

Texas Power Grid Vulnerability

To prevent federal jurisdiction and regulation, and in an effort to drive down costs with market-driven prices, Texas decentralized its energy industry two decades ago. The state has a self-contained grid (aka, an energy island); meanwhile, two other grids power the rest of the continental U.S. One consequence: If demand on Texas’s grid exceeds its capabilities, they cannot borrow power from other states.

Residents and officials don’t want a replay of the catastrophic blackouts caused by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, when demand exceeded the available power load in prolonged freezing conditions. Garnering international attention, the reliability of Texas’s privatized power grid came under intense scrutiny. After the system’s failure in 2021, experts continue to study and share their hypotheses on Texas’s power grid vulnerability.

A recently-released Cornell University-led study suggests that decentralized energy markets are “prone to underinvestment in resiliency against rare events,” meaning investors don’t want to put money into extreme weather protections that may not see a payoff for years, even decades, for “just-in-case” weather events.

Likewise, in extreme heat, available power is maxed out. During an unusually hot May this year, six power plants went offline, resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity, or enough to power more than 580,000 homes. Since May, the Texas grid has endured 26 record-breaking levels of demand. No brownouts (partial outage) or blackouts occurred, however, in part due voluntary power conservation and a 15% increase in power generation over last year. In Texas, some “peaker plants” run when costs and demand are high, but they are market-driven and include some outdated coal plants that are expensive for upkeep. The state relies on less-power-heavy months for maintenance and upkeep.

 

In summary, critics point to these areas of weakness in the power grid:

  • Little or no incentives for investors to weatherize power plants for extreme conditions (insulation for cold weather and insulation removal/testing for heat).
  • Longer periods of extreme weather that tax the system and provide less “shoulder month” times in milder spring or fall weather for power plant maintenance. Some suggest climate change as the culprit.
  • Political will between the oil industry and investment in renewable energy.
  • The state’s aging power plants’ ability to keep up with demand.
  • Texas population and industry growth, adding more demand on the grid.
  • No interconnectedness to the country’s two other power grids.

 

Potential Solutions

Due to the climate, population, and industry demands, Texas is the top energy consumer in the U.S., but ranks less per capita for residential and industry usage. The Lone Star State is also energy-rich as the top natural gas and crude oil producer in the nation. While the supply mainly relies on traditional power sources, the state is also growing its renewable energy resources, including wind and solar. In fact, Texas is the nation’s top wind-energy generator.

 

Energy experts, politicians (including the legislature and an upcoming governor’s race), and scholars each have their own proposals for ensuring the reliability and security of the Texas power grid, including:

  • Strict weatherization and maintenance schedules for the state’s power plants.
  • More attractive long-term investment incentives and requirements, such as “mandatory contracting to require advanced energy purchases” (per the Cornell University study).
  • Updated infrastructure and further investments into renewable energy like wind and solar (and incentives to do so).
  • Connecting to the national grid.
  • Beyond voluntary energy conservation, incentivizing homeowners to reduce usage and better insulate their homes.

It’s undeniable that the stability of the Texas power grid is of interest to every resident and business, who are looking to decision-makers for solutions to keep the AC running. Residents can help by implementing these power-saving ideas in the summer and by ensuring their homes are well insulated. To save even more money, discover a prepaid electricity plan with Payless Power by entering your Texas zip code today.

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