The Austin Chronicle

State Grid Weathered Cold Snap Despite Record Demand

All-time highs and lows

By Lina Fisher, January 19, 2024, News

Looking back on the frigid weather this week, the grid held up extremely well. Despite calls for conservation on Monday and Tuesday mornings and a new winter demand record, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) avoided outages due to an ample energy supply, including a new record for solar, which produced three times as much as it did during Winter Storm Uri. Though ERCOT overshot its estimate of demand by several thousand megawatts (they tend to overestimate), on Monday the grid did weather a new all-time winter peak for demand, with Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022 coming in second. The next day during Tuesday's peak, wind produced around a third of the energy needed to meet demand. As UT-Austin energy researcher Joshua Rhodes pointed out on X, the ERCOT grid is 40% carbon-free as of 2024.

Also locally Austin officials did a better job of communicating to the public, holding multiple press conferences explaining how to weather the cold. That outreach led to another record: Mayor Kirk Watson said in a press conference Tuesday that 600 people, the highest number ever, sought overnight shelter at one of the city's seven cold weather shelters. Weatherwise, there were even more records: Watson pointed to new all-time lows of 16 degrees for those dates, as well as only the third-ever wind chill warning from the National Weather Service. However, despite a boil water notice in Hays County affecting 6,000 customers and delayed starts to Austin ISD classes, Austin's daily flow was largely unaltered. EMS only responded to 30 weather-related calls from Sunday to Tuesday, compared to more than 2,937 total incidents during 2022's Winter Storm Elliott. "When you compare it to previous weather events, this has really kind of been fairly tame," said EMS Captain Darren Noak Tuesday.

Energy experts had predicted a more resilient response to this cold snap last week, pointing to winterization that power plants have implemented since the 2021 winter storm. There was also much less precipitation than during Elliott's ice hurricane, when buildup caused tree limbs to knock out power lines. The star of the show this year, however, has been renewable power, which held the grid steady this summer amid record heat as well.

Roads were cleared of ice completely Tuesday morning according to the Texas Department of Transportation, and temperatures will heat up to a high of around 70 on Thursday. Austinites should brace for another chilly – but milder – weekend come Friday, with the National Weather Service currently predicting lows in the 20s on Saturday and rain chances early next week.

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