EnergyERCOT Expands Power Grid Reserve Capacity in Preparation for Summer Heat

ERCOT and PUC officials said they're confident the power grid will be able to meet the potential peak demand this summer as temperatures rise.
July 22, 2021
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“We expect to have sufficient generation to serve all Texans,” Brad Jones, interim CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), told reporters in an update on the power grid’s status ahead of expected summer heat.

The all-time summer peak load is 74,800 megawatts (MW) and both Jones and Public Utility Commission Chairman (PUC) Peter Lake said on Thursday that could be eclipsed next week with expected high heat.

But they underscored their belief that, if need be, the grid could provide 80,000 MW of generation during peak hours — usually in the late afternoon and early evening as temperatures reach their peak and Texans get home from work and crank up their air conditioning.

“We have more Texans than ever,” Lake added, “and that means higher demand for electricity than ever.”

To prepare, ERCOT has dedicated 38 percent more in generation to reserve capacity from this July compared to last. And they plan to dedicate 56 percent more reserve capacity for August compared to August 2020.

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An additional 2,000 MW in ancillary service generation — a break-in-case-of-emergency type of generation — has been procured by ERCOT. They plan to operate from a 6,500 MW capacity reserve margin during the summer.

One MW can power about 200 homes during peak usage hours.

The PUC and ERCOT are tasked with implementing the reforms ordered by the legislature and the governor’s directives issued earlier this month. Among those include a weatherization mandate and a significant overhaul of the ERCOT market structure.

“Our electricity market used to focus on affordability and then reliability, but from now on reliability is the first focus over affordability,” Lake said.

This includes overhauling the incentive structure within the market that, officials say, led to the perfect storm of problems that led to blackouts across the state back in February. “We are embarking on once in a generation reforms,” Jones said, adding that, “the market needs incentives for generators who commit to showing up and do show up.”

“We will pay for reliable power in any form.”

That redesign, Lake and Jones said, will be completed by the end of the year, if not sooner.

Since 2015 and through 2023’s planned additions, Texas is on track for a net generation gain of over 20,000 MW in solar and over 10,000 MW of wind while facing a net loss of over 10,000 MW of coal and over 8,000 MW of natural gas power.

Asked if this trend will play into their redesign plans, Lake told The Texan it will play into their reliability focus, but “we’re not in the business of picking winners and losers and we want to incentivize the result that Texas needs: reliable electricity on an accountable basis.”

That means a lower portion of the total grid capacity will be made up by dispatchable power, which could leave the grid vulnerable during peak hours if those sources do not produce. This was a significant theme both during the February storm and the June heat conservation alert.

In both cases, wind generation produced at a small fraction of its installed capacity. However, it contributed greatly to the grid’s avoidance of disaster during June’s tight conditions.

Mechanical failures that knocked thermal generators offline were also a huge factor in June’s alarm and, famously, the severe and prolonged cold weather in February caused every category of generator to fail in some fashion.

“For the first time ever, we are taking into account real-time conditions into decisions on the reserve margin,” the pair of agency leaders said Thursday.

Texas and its grid overseers are suffering from a trust deficit after the disastrous winter event. The new leadership of both the PUC and ERCOT emphasized this week the need to rebuild that trust and, ultimately, ensure electricity is available when it’s needed most.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.