EnergyERCOT Issues Energy Conservation Request After Tight Grid Conditions Caused by Mechanical Failures

Due to a number of unexpected plant outages caused by mechanical failures, Texans have been asked to conserve energy for the next five days.
June 14, 2021
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Texas’ electricity demand was briefly projected to outpace its generation Monday afternoon when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) requested energy conservation from consumers across the state.

In addition to the hot temperatures, about 11,000 megawatts (MW) of generation went out of commission for repairs and mechanical failures — both compounding into tight grid conditions. Most of that total was thermal generation, according to a release by the grid regulator, which was more than is usually allowed to offload for routine maintenance.

In an afternoon media call, that total number was adjusted to 12,178 MW as of 2:30 p.m — a total that ERCOT said is three to four times the typical expected amount of outage.

ERCOT requested that energy conservation efforts are practiced through Friday because of potential record June electricity demand. During the remainder of the week, ERCOT is asking consumers to set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights, and avoid using large appliances, and unplug anything not being used.

“We will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service,” said ERCOT Vice President of Grid Planning and Operations Woody Rickerson.

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“This is unusual for this early in the summer season.”

Monday afternoon, ERCOT said, “It appears unlikely right now that we’ll enter emergency conditions.” Rolling blackouts are not implemented until the third of three emergency categories but ERCOT said the number of outages is “very concerning.” Furthermore, ERCOT said they’ll have more information tomorrow on which units are offline.

The grid operator placed blame on the generators for failing to keep their plants running during this time. “It is our expectation that generators would make their fleets available during peak times.”

Peak demand usually occurs in the late afternoon when most people get home from work and turn on their air conditioning before the temperatures fall in the evening. Electricity cannot be stored in any meaningful quantity on a state level and once generated it must be used.

At the point of warning, Texas wind production had dropped below 3,000 MW, about 10 times lower than its installed capacity. Wind typically generates at its highest overnight when most are asleep and is expected to rise heading into the night — when overall electricity demand ebbs.

Solar generation, which acts nearly as an inverse of wind in terms of its peak generation time, was outpacing wind production by over 2,000 MW. ERCOT said the late afternoon to late evening, wind is projected to underperform by 1,500 MW. According to ERCOT’s 2:30 p.m. numbers, about 12 percent of the total grid capacity was supplied by renewables while thermal produced the rest.

1 MW can generally power a few hundred homes at once.

By mid-afternoon, the ERCOT grid had already eclipsed the previous June demand record of 69,123 MW set in 2018.

In response to the February winter storm, the state legislature passed a number of reforms to the grid and to ERCOT. Governor Greg Abbott claimed, “The bottom line is that everything that needed to be done, was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

Among the reforms is a “weatherization” mandate for infrastructure. While the bill was signed last week, the policies are not close to full implementation yet. Asked by The Texan if requiring facilities to protect against the winter cold might come at the expense of resiliency to the summer heat, Abbott and other officials demurred.

For Monday’s alarm, however, that would not play a role but is something to watch moving forward.

Texas’ energy infrastructure is designed to better withstand the summer heat and has done so better than other states. Conservation requests during the summer are not unheard of but now after the statewide blackouts earlier this year, every Texan’s ears will perk up at the slightest peep of alarm from its grid regulator.

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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.