Last week, Texans were asked twice to voluntarily conserve energy at home as record demand put stress on the power grid.
These conservation requests don’t mean that power outages are imminent — instead, it’s one of the many tools that Texas’ Electricity Reliability Council uses to prevent mass power outages. At the same time, some residents across the state lost power in outages that ERCOT says weren’t related to the power grid. It’s easy for Texans, still wary after February’s 2021 winter outage that caused many Texans to lose power for days, to confuse local outages with statewide issues with the grid.
So how do you know the difference?
How can I tell the difference between a local outage and a grid outage?
When ERCOT calls for a rotating outage, the information will be available through several sources, a spokesperson said. This can include reports in local media, on ERCOT’s Facebook and Twitter, through the ERCOT app and through emergency email alerts that residents can sign up for here.
Rotating outages also affect the entire ERCOT region, which covers most of Texas. When individual towns are experiencing an outage, the problem is much more likely to be local, according to an ERCOT spokesperson.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also works with ERCOT and other grid operators in Texas to put out power outage alerts when one of the grid operators believes it doesn’t have enough power supply to meet demand for the state or a particular region. The power outage alert program supplies Texas broadcasters with information and updates about outages to distribute to the public.
Texans who are experiencing an outage but don’t see any announcements from ERCOT should check with their local utility company instead. Austin Energy provides updates here.
For more answers to your energy outage questions, click here.
By Mitchell Ferman
For the second time this week, the state’s power grid operator is asking Texans to turn up their thermostats to 78 degrees on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and to avoid using large appliances during that time as it expects record-high demand for power amid ongoing scorching temperatures.
A spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s main power grid operator, said he does not expect rolling blackouts to happen on Wednesday.
The call for conservation came because of higher-than-expected coal and natural gas-fired power plant outages, as well as low winds, as demand continues to rise because of higher than normal temperatures.
"The fleet has been run extremely hard this year and especially this summer so it’s not surprising that wear-and-tear is starting to bear out in the form of components breaking," said Michele Richmond, executive director of the Texas Competitive Power Advocates, which represents power generators.
Solar power, which has performed well this summer, was also struggling on Wednesday to produce as much electricity as expected, ERCOT said, because of some dark clouds over solar farms in west Texas.
When Texans were asked on Monday to conserve electricity, ERCOT said that appeal reduced demand on the power grid by 500 megawatts during the afternoon. ERCOT did not come close to implementing rolling blackouts.
Power grids must keep supply and demand in balance at all times. When Texas’ grid falls below its safety margin of excess supply, the grid operator starts taking additional precautions to avoid blackouts.
The first precaution is to ask the public to voluntarily cut back electricity usage. The next step is for the grid operator to tell the public the grid could be at risk of not having enough power to meet demand and ordering Texans to cut back electricity usage. If the grid’s conditions still don’t improve, ERCOT would then implement controlled, rotating power outages, in which Texans in some areas could lose power for up to 45 minutes at a time.
Power grids around the world are facing tests this summer as climate change has led to hotter temperatures and Russia’s war with Ukraine has strained fuel supplies. In Japan, officials asked residents in late June to conserve electricity during unusually hot weather. In the U.S., officials have warned about possible power outages this summer due to record heat and demand for power.
In May, ERCOT asked Texans to conserve power during a heat wave that coincided with six power plant outages.
Climate change has made Texas heat both hotter and longer lasting. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in Texas have both increased by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 125 years. The state just saw its hottest December on record since 1889.
In Houston, Saturday through Tuesday were the hottest consecutive four days on record, according to meteorologists with Space City Weather.
Power demand is forecast to push within 600 megawatts of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' capacity Friday afternoon as a record month of heat continues.
Demand for the statewide power grid hit over 65,000 Mw at 5 p.m., just under the capacity the grid can handle. ERCOT announced approximately 2,900 Mw of power was lost on Friday due to six power generation facilities tripping offline. At 5 p.m. it said all reserve generation resources available are operating. Texans have been asked to conserve energy.
Inbox: ERCOT says "six power generation facilities tripped offline resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity. At this time, all reserve generation resources available are operating." Asks Texans to conserve power... pic.twitter.com/g6LxJlHlop
— Forrest Wilder (@Forrest4Trees) May 13, 2022
As the power grid threatens to buckle under the weight of consumers, record-breaking heat continues to push up demand. Austin is currently in the hottest May on record, with temperatures averaging at 82 degrees—eight degrees higher than average—at Austin's Camp Mabry.
And Austin is expected to have another triple-digit onslaught next week, with temperatures peaking at highs of 100 degrees Friday and Saturday. As a result, demand could peak Monday, with forecast demand expected to reach a May record of 70,758 Mw. The previous record was 67,265 in 2018, while ERCOT's all-time high was 74,820 Mw in August 2019.
While ERCOT has not yet seen a heat surge reminiscent of 2021's Winter Storm Uri, power outage woes became all too real for around 3,600 southeast Austinites Saturday as Austin Energy put on a last-resort power pause from around 3:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The outage was a culmination of many factors—from near-100 degree heat to unfortunately-timed maintenance checks and growth in the Bluff Springs area. The result was an overheating circuit that needed relief fast.
"It was related to high usage overloading one circuit at a time when some of our infrastructure was still undergoing maintenance in preparation for the months to come," Austin Energy spokesperson Matt Mitchell told Austonia. "So it was a very unique set of circumstances that we do not see repeating itself."
Mitchell said that all seasonal maintenance is complete and that Austin Energy will open a new power substation in Bluff Springs this June. The organization also said the issue had nothing to do with ERCOT, which released a statement assuring consumers that power was not threatened during that time.
NEW: ERCOT projects there will be sufficient supply of power to meet demand for this week. pic.twitter.com/fPZWHbWyoc
— Lindsey Ragas (@LindseyRagas) May 10, 2022
ERCOT also told Austonia before 5 p.m. that it "projects there will be sufficient generation to meet demand for electricity" on Friday. It then informed the public about the energy loss due to a power trip.
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