The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the operator of the state’s power grid, announced on Wednesday that it had returned to normal operations after a near-crisis situation on Monday and Tuesday. ERCOT had asked Texans to conserve electricity as much as possible due to a combination of high demand, low wind and solar output, and unexpected outages at several power plants. The grid operator had warned that it could resort to controlled blackouts if the situation worsened.
What caused the tight grid conditions?
According to ERCOT, about 12,000 megawatts (MW) of power generation were offline on Monday afternoon, enough to power 2.4 million homes on a hot summer day. This was several times more than what ERCOT would typically expect to go offline during June. Some of the outages were due to maintenance issues, while others were caused by mechanical failures or equipment damage. ERCOT said it was investigating the reasons for the high number of outages and whether any of them were avoidable.
At the same time, Texas was experiencing record-breaking demand for electricity due to a prolonged heat wave that pushed temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in many parts of the state. ERCOT had forecasted a peak demand of 73,000 MW on Monday, but the actual demand reached 74,244 MW, surpassing the previous June record of 69,123 MW set in 2018.
Additionally, the grid operator said that wind and solar generation were lower than expected on Monday and Tuesday, reducing the amount of renewable energy available to meet the demand. Wind output dropped from about 8,000 MW on Sunday night to about 3,500 MW on Monday afternoon, while solar output declined from about 6,000 MW on Monday afternoon to about 4,000 MW on Tuesday afternoon.
How did ERCOT manage the grid situation?
To cope with the tight grid conditions, ERCOT issued an Energy Emergency Alert Level 1 (EEA 1) on Monday afternoon, which means that operating reserves had fallen below 2,300 MW and were not expected to recover within 30 minutes. An EEA 1 allows ERCOT to access additional resources that are only available during emergencies, such as power from other grids or from industrial customers who have agreed to reduce their consumption in exchange for compensation.
On Tuesday afternoon, ERCOT escalated the alert to an EEA 2, which means that operating reserves had fallen below 1,750 MW and were not expected to recover within 30 minutes. An EEA 2 allows ERCOT to activate demand response programs that can reduce demand by up to 1,200 MW by temporarily shutting off power to certain customers who have voluntarily enrolled in the program.
ERCOT also asked all Texans to conserve electricity as much as possible from Monday through Friday, especially during the peak hours of 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. The grid operator suggested some ways to reduce consumption, such as setting thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turning off lights and appliances when not in use, avoiding using large appliances like ovens and washers during peak hours, and closing blinds and curtains to keep out the heat.
ERCOT said that these conservation measures helped prevent the need for controlled blackouts, which would have been implemented if the alert had reached an EEA 3. An EEA 3 means that operating reserves had fallen below 1,375 MW and were not expected to recover within 30 minutes. An EEA 3 would have allowed ERCOT to initiate rotating outages across the state to maintain the balance between supply and demand and avoid a widespread blackout.
How did Texans react to the grid situation?
The grid situation sparked anger and frustration among many Texans who questioned why ERCOT was facing another potential crisis just four months after the February winter storm that left millions of people without power for days. Some lawmakers and experts criticized ERCOT for failing to adequately prepare for the summer demand and ensure enough generation capacity. They also called for more transparency and accountability from the grid operator and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), which oversees ERCOT.
Some Texans also expressed skepticism and confusion about the reasons for the outages and whether they were being manipulated by power generators or traders who could benefit from higher prices. The wholesale price of electricity spiked from about $25 per megawatt-hour on Monday morning to about $2,000 per megawatt-hour on Monday afternoon, reaching the maximum allowed by ERCOT. The high prices persisted until Wednesday morning when they dropped back to normal levels.
However, ERCOT and PUC officials denied any foul play or market manipulation and said that they were following the rules and protocols designed to protect the grid reliability and integrity. They also said that they were conducting audits and reviews of the power plant outages and would take appropriate actions if any violations or misconduct were found.
What are the implications for the future of the Texas grid?
The grid situation highlighted once again the challenges and vulnerabilities of the Texas power system, which is largely isolated from other grids and relies on a market-based approach that incentivizes power generators to produce electricity when prices are high but does not require them to maintain enough reserves or invest in weatherization or reliability measures. The situation also raised questions about the adequacy and accuracy of ERCOT’s planning and forecasting methods, as well as the effectiveness and enforcement of its rules and regulations.
The grid situation also renewed the calls for reforms and improvements in the Texas power sector, such as increasing the generation capacity and diversity, enhancing the transmission and distribution infrastructure, expanding the interconnections with other grids, implementing more demand response and energy efficiency programs, adopting more renewable energy and storage technologies, and increasing the oversight and governance of ERCOT and PUC.
Some of these reforms and improvements were addressed by the Texas Legislature in the recent session that ended in May, but many experts and advocates said that they were not enough or not implemented fast enough to prevent another grid crisis. They urged the lawmakers and regulators to take more decisive and comprehensive actions to ensure the reliability, resilience, affordability, and sustainability of the Texas power system.