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Texans Could Face Power Outages This Summer As Heat Waves Test Electrical Grid

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The sun sets behind power transmission lines in Texas, the United States on July 11, 2022. NICK WAGNER/ACCUWEATHER

Utility officials in Texas say a booming population and extreme heat waves may put the state’s power grid to the test this summer. 

Leaders say this summer the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ECROT) may rely heavily on renewable resources to get by. 

If those renewable resources aren’t enough, Texans could be dealing with potential brownouts during some of the hottest periods of the summer.

ERCOT’s seasonal assessment, released on Wednesday, forecasts a new record peak demand of 82,739 megawatts (MW) this summer, but fossil fuel power sources, like coal and natural gas, will not be enough to keep up with the peak energy demands. 

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This will leave homes and businesses across Texas more reliant on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind generation.

Last year, ERCOT set a new all-time demand peak on July 20, when there was over 80,000 MW of demand.

The sun sets behind power transmission lines in Texas, the United States on July 11, 2022. NICK WAGNER/ACCUWEATHER

This new projected record peak goes hand-in-hand with the population growth Texas has seen since 2008. 

According to Texas Public Utility Commission Chair Peter Lake, Texas’s population grew 24% from 2008 to 2022, but Texas’s on-demand dispatchable power supply hasn’t kept up with this growth. Lake says that in the same time frame, ERCOT’s on-demand dispatchable power supply has grown only 1.5%.

“On the hottest day of summer, there is no longer enough on-demand dispatchable power generation to meet demand in the ERCOT system,” Lake said at a press conference on Wednesday. “So we will be relying on renewables to keep the lights on.”

ERCOT says wind energy (28.6%) is only behind natural gas (48.6%) in terms of generating capacity for 2023 in the state. Wind power also accounted for 25% of Texas’s electricity generation in 2022, second to natural gas which accounted for 43%.

“For the last decade and a half, Texas has led the nation in wind-powered electricity generation, producing nearly 26% of the U.S. wind energy in 2021,” according to a “Review of the Texas Economy,” from the Texas Comptroller in September 2022.

In the press conference on Wednesday, Lake highlights a risky “new reality” the power grid in Texas could face this summer.

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“Our risk goes up as the sun goes down because it’s still hot at 9 p.m.,” said Lake. “Our solar generation is all gone, so at that point of the day, we will be relying on wind generation.”

Some of the threats and concerns highlighted by AccuWeather meteorologists for the upcoming summer season. COURTESY/ACCUWEATHER

According to Lake’s data, for wind generation to keep up with the power demand on the hottest days this summer, about half of the units need to be generating power by 9 p.m. But, much like last year, there will be days when the wind supply won’t be able to keep up with the demand. Lake said there were at least 12 days last summer when wind generation was operating less than 20% during the peak hours of 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“We will continue to use every tool available to keep the lights on and the ACs running this summer, but we do not have any control over wind or sun,” Lake said. “If the wind does not pick up, we will have to rely on our on-demand dispatchable generators.”

In the event that wind generation cannot keep up with demand, on-demand dispatchable generators, such as batteries, will help keep the ERCOT system afloat. But, he warns, they have “limited duration.” Once they run out of power, there is no more to give.

Therefore, the greatest risk of ERCOT rolling blackouts during heat waves could be around 9 p.m., when solar energy is no longer available, and wind generation or on-demand dispatchable generators can’t keep up with the demand. ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas and Lake say ERCOT will communicate early and often with Texans when tight grid conditions arise.

“The high-risk scenarios in this report are low-probability scenarios,” said Vegas. “We do expect the grid to be reliable, but we want to be upfront and communicate openly and transparently to all consumers to the kinds of risks that we do see.”

A wind turbine sits near a cotton field near Corpus Christi, Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico on July 16, 2021. MATT PIERCE/ACCUWEATHER

In response to the press conference on Wednesday, renewable energy supporters, such as Luke Metzger, the executive director of Environment Texas, said the renewable energy in Texas should be “heralded and welcomed” and not blamed for potential problems with the grid this summer.

“We do need to make more fixes to the grid. Solutions include further weatherization of power plants and the fuel supply, more energy efficiency, more batteries, and interconnecting our grid with the rest of the country’s,” Metzger said in a press release. “These solutions will also protect the environment and consumers. Prolonging our dependency on pollution-spewing, fossil-fuel power plants is not the answer.”

More than two years ago, the power grid nearly collapsed in Texas during a harsh winter storm, which resulted in more than 50 fatalities and left millions of Texans without power or heat during the deep freeze that followed the storm. 

Texas leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, blamed renewable energy for the failure, but according to the Texas Tribune, a later analysis showed that all types of power generation were faulty during the storm.

AccuWeather’s team of long-range forecasters, led by Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok, released its U.S. summer forecast on Wednesday. The forecast calls for widespread heat across a large swath of Texas this summer.

Although the long-term summer forecast does not explicitly state how many heat waves are likely this summer for Texas, it does expect the state to run at least 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the historical average. 

Western and northern Texas will likely experience temperatures 3 to 4 degrees above the historical average, according to Pastelok’s forecast.

The cooling demand forecast for the U.S. this summer compared to the historical average. COURTESY/ACCUWEATHER

These higher temperatures will lead to a rise in the cooling demand. Parts of the Lone Star State are forecast to have an above-average cooling demand this summer, which could result in elevated energy usage.

It is important to note that major Texas cities, such as Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and their surrounding metro areas, which account for more than half of the state’s population, are forecast to have an average cooling demand this year.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond

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