Late on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 3, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Texas’ electricity grid manager, held a conference call with ERCOT’s vice president of system planning and operations Kent Saathoff, to discuss the state of the electricity grid. The Spark Energy Social Media Team was on that call, and here’s what we learned.
Due to widespread high temperatures, the state’s electricity grid experienced record-setting power usage for a third straight day: 68,294 megawatts at its peak between 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. (One megawatt is equal to about 200 homes running air conditioning.) "This heat wave is unprecedented, it's all over Texas. It's a very unusual situation," said Saathoff. This was also the second day in a row that a Level 1 power emergency was called, and “we were within about 50 megawatts of going to Level 2,” he added.
At a level 1 emergency, the state’s reserve generation drops below 2,300 megawatts and ERCOT will look to bordering states and Mexico for excess generation capacity they can offer. At level 2, excess reserves fall to less than 1,750 megawatts and ERCOT first calls on industrial customers who had voluntarily opted-in to shut down facilities to save about 1,000 megawatts of usage. If that’s not enough, ERCOT then calls on commercial customers opted in to save about 300 megawatts of usage from the grid.
A level 3 emergency has only been called three times in Texas since 1989, and that means that the stability of the grid is in question. If this happens, local utility distribution companies such as Centerpoint, Oncor, AEP, and TNMP are called upon to shed electric load and institute rolling blackouts that can last from 15 minutes up to 45 minutes and more. The last time this happened was in February when freezing conditions shut down several large generation facilities in the Texas area.
With extreme cold and hot temperatures both triggering emergency alerts in Texas this year, Saathoff suggests "the best solution is to have more generation,” but he balanced that stating later, “You can’t afford to build a system that will give you 100 percent reliability…It’s a question of what extreme events you design and build a system for.” Noting that a 100-percent reliable system would be too expensive for consumers, Saathoff says they try to design for a once-in-a-decade scenarios.
At any given time, about 5% of the 70,000 megawatts worth of generation in the Texas area are down. "We've got 400 generation plants in ERCOT, on average 20 are out," says Saathoff. But on Wednesday, as much as 4,000 megawatts were unavailable due to maintenance issues. Several more facilities had been down due to high stress on the system Monday and Tuesday.
According to Saathoff, "When you have the exceedingly high load levels, it can be difficult to balance generation" as consumers bumped up air conditioning systems to keep cool, which brought ERCOT so close to increasing the emergency level. So even though Saathoff started the conference call saying that "they could be declaring Level 2 any moment now," ERCOT media relations spokesperson Dottie Roark ended the call near 5:00 saying that "It's looking promising now that we may not have to get to Level 2."
For Thursday, we’re still not in the clear with the same high temperatures continuing to plague the Lone Star State. "If we keep seeing temperatures of 107 or 110, we'll be at increased risk of rolling blackouts," says Saathoff. Please continue to conserve energy through the remainder of the week, especially from 3-7 PM, and most critically from 4-5 PM. See Spark Energy’s tips for conserving energy here.
Stay Informed with Spark Energy
Spark Energy will notify customers via our Facebook and Twitter accounts about ERCOT emergency alerts, and whether rolling blackouts are imposed. If blackouts are not called for and you do have an outage, please be sure to report it to the utility company or transmission provider listed on your electric bill:
American Electric Power – AEP
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative
Brazos Electric Power Cooperative
Brownsville Public Utilities Board
Bryan Texas Utilities
College Station Utilities
CPS Energy – San Antonio
Denton Municipal Electric
Garland Power & Light
Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative
Magic Valley Electric Cooperative
Nueces Electric Cooperative
Pedernales Electric Cooperative
Rayburn County Electric Cooperative
South Texas Electric Cooperative
Texas-New Mexico Power