Gas and Coal Outages Behind ERCOT’s Constant Calls for Conservation

And no progress on energy efficiency programs

Photo via Getty Images

As temperatures cool off slightly in the coming weeks – at least to below 100 degrees – the electric grid may be less stressed temporarily, but the last few weeks’ extreme heat has revealed weak spots yet again.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has so far issued eight requests this August for conservation as demand has soared, fueled by extreme temperatures, no rain, and booming population growth – enough that Mayor Kirk Watson felt the need to formally warn Austinites of the possibility of rolling blackouts last night (though they didn’t happen).

ERCOT’s previous demand record, set in July 2022, was 80.1 gigawatts. This summer’s demand has been consistently over 80 GW, with an Aug. 10 peak of 85.4 GW.

Solar power has been helping ERCOT avoid rolling blackouts, but thermal energy (gas, coal, and nuclear) has been lacking and was behind the call for conservation Tuesday night. On Aug. 29, thermal outages were beyond what ERCOT defines as “extreme,” at 4+ GW above the 30-day average, energy researchers pointed out – about 120% more generation offline than ERCOT defines as typical. So far, ERCOT has not explained why thermal generation dropped so significantly on Tuesday.

To make up for these outages and reduce demand, advocates have been pushing energy efficiency programs. Though the Public Utility Commission received recommendations for improving efficiency from the Energy Efficiency Implementation Project earlier this year, they have yet to implement them. Advocates also wonder why there is no demand response program – or why we aren’t getting paid for the voluntary conservation we’re doing. ERCOT already pays bitcoin miners and other major manufacturers that use a lot of energy for their conservation, but the only way for Austin residents to get compensation is to enroll in Austin Energy’s bill credit program for installing a smart thermostat.

In an even more puzzling move, ERCOT may vote Thursday to drive battery storage out of their ancillary services reserves – the batteries that provide backup power when the grid fails. In his Energy and Power newsletter, energy consultant Doug Lewin says, “ERCOT has made very clear it intends to banish storage resources from this market,” driving up costs for consumers.

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