The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is asking Texans to voluntarily reduce power consumption Monday, as the blistering heat continues around the state. Temperatures are expected to reach triple digits – in Austin, for example, Monday’s high forecast is 107 degrees.
Bob Sechler, a business and government reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, says high temperatures, low wind speeds and shortages of natural gas and other fuel sources all contribute to strain on the Texas power grid, and temperatures are expected to remain high for some time to come.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s talk a little bit about demand concerns. We’ve been seeing some triple digits for the past several days, and that’s been happening across the state. Why Is ERCOT issuing this conservation warning? What sort of power demand are they concerned about?
Bob Sechler: Well, for one, it’s Monday: Monday is a higher demand day than the weekend. People are back at work, and in addition, wind speeds are expected to be very low, which affects wind turbine output. Last week we had the same thing – high demand and wind speeds low. We also had some thermal plant outages; those are coal and natural gas, mainly.
And then there’s a cumulative effect as these high temperatures take a toll on generation, the temperatures of lakes, the cool power plants. There’s a cumulative effect, and it looks like it’s going to be a little bit too close for comfort today, or they wouldn’t have issued the request for conservation.
Is there concern that people might experience brownouts or blackouts this week?
We’re not in an emergency status yet. They said that last night, and they said they’re still expecting not to have what they call systemic outages. But again, they wouldn’t have asked for conservation if they didn’t think they needed it. And they issued a watch for demand to exceed capacity. The watch is mainly directed at ERCOT, at managers and things. It’s a step below an emergency, but we are clearly on the edge. I think what they said in last night’s warning was that the peak demand is within 500 megawatts of possible generation capacity between 1 and 2 p.m. today. And that’s, significantly, that’s a very, very slim margin.
What can Texans do to conserve energy? I mean, obviously, you want to dial back the A/C to a somewhat warmer level. What else are they saying?
Well, if you have a pool, turn off the pump. And any kind of big appliances that you might have – not to run them. The [Public Utility Commission] has a website which has tips for how to conserve.
Is there any relief in sight?
It looks fairly depressing with the stretch of 100-degree-plus temperatures stretching seemingly indefinitely. And what we had last week and today and through the weekend was very, very low wind speeds. Wind output’s supposed to barely 1,000 megawatts at points this afternoon; normally it’s over 10,000. So that’s an issue now. It’s not all wind to blame – as I mentioned, last week we had unexpectedly high numbers of thermal outages. And it’s unclear today if that’s also the case.
But that’s sort of the trifecta of problems: very, very high temperature is what spurs a lot of demand and then very low wind speeds and an unexpected amount of thermal outages – which is natural gas and coal. That’s kind of the trifecta of things that puts us into a danger zone. And we appear to be there, relatively early in the summer.