Texas Manages To Avoid Grid Collapse This Time, Yay!
Wind farm at sunset (may not actually be Texas), 2009. Photo by 'Chrishna,' Creative Commons License 2.0

In the midst of dangerous high temperatures caused by an atmospheric "heat dome" that's affecting much of the Southwest, Texas's power grid operator, the whimsically named "Electric Reliability Council of Texas" (ERCOT), called on Texans to cut back on electricity use in hopes of avoiding rolling blackouts. And while the agency says Texas hit a new unofficial peak in energy demand Monday, it also told the Texas Tribune that it now doesn't expect any rolling blackouts for the rest of the week.

Because of the high temperatures — over 100 degrees in much of the state — ERCOT on Sunday night asked Texans to set their thermostats a little higher and to avoid using major appliances and pool pumps from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time Monday. That seems to have been enough to avoid worse consequences. It probably also helped that, as Bloomberg News reported, most of Texas's bitcoin miners shut down their power-hungry computers in response to the call to conserve energy, freeing up one percent of the grid's capacity. The move's impact on the value of stupid low-resolution "art" is of no interest to us whatsoever, so let's move on.

The Texas Tribune reports that Texans actually did cut back on power use when asked to, instead of trying to shoot at the heat dome that's been causing record highs in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arkansas as well.

On Monday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas set a new unofficial peak record of demand, a spokesperson said. Total power demand reached 78.3 gigawatts, surpassing the previous record of 78.2 set on July 8. Almost half of 1 gigawatt — or 500 megawatts — of demand dropped off between 1:56 and 2 p.m., the spokesperson said. ERCOT sent out a request late Sunday asking Texans to cut back their energy use starting at 2 p.m. Monday.

The heat dome also reduced the available electrical generating capacity in Texas by causing unseasonably slack winds, cutting wind generation of power to less than 10 percent of capacity, according to ERCOT, which predicts more wind power will be available the rest of the week. The Tribune notes that "Winds in Texas often drop during the daytime and pick up overnight, especially in the summer."

Also too, as Texas Monthly points out, the state's fast-growing utility-grade solar power sector "continued to set records for energy production."

“We’ve got twice the solar we had last summer, and something like three times what we had eighteen months ago,” energy consultant Doug Lewin told me on Monday. “We actually set another solar record today, and we set one yesterday. Renewables throughout most of May and June, as we’ve been experiencing extreme heat, really were the difference between [having] a whole lot of conservation calls and potential rolling outages and not having them.”

In a sane state, stagnant winds would be less of a problem since any shortfall in wind-generated electricity could be offset by buying power from other parts of the grid, but Texas decided decades ago to keep itself mostly free of federal power regulations by largely walling its grid off from the other two massive interconnected grids that make up the US grid. That, plus the decision to run the whole state's power system like ENRON, is why the freeze of 2021 left much of Texas's power grid in chaos, resulting in blackouts and hundreds of deaths.

As the Tribune notes, Sunday night's call for energy conservation was the first step in a series of measures the grid operator uses when generation capacity is in danger of falling short of demand.

The next step is for the grid operator to tell the public the grid could be in serious condition, and Texans need to cut back electricity usage in order to help the grid. 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.

ERCOT's call for conservation Sunday only noted that there might be shortages of reserve power, not that rolling blackouts were a possibility, and that second level of warning didn't become necessary. More on the various stages of Oh Shit!here, at Houston Public Media.

That said, it's still just the second week of July, and As the Tribune points out, that climate change stuff is here whether elected Republicans will acknowledge it or not.

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.

Texas is facing extreme heat conditions this year, with much of the state under temperatures above 100 degrees. As of Monday morning, the National Weather Service has issued heat advisories or excessive heat warnings for 154 of the state’s 254 counties. Some regions are breaking heat records: On Sunday, Austin hit an all-time record high for July at 110 degrees, while San Antonio saw the hottest temperatures on record in the city at 106 degrees.

Municipal governments around the state turned up the thermostats in city buildings and paused use of some electricity-hungry equipment at water plants, like pumps the San Antonio Water System uses to return recycled water back into the San Antonio River. San Antonio also temporarily drew water from only one of the three aquifers it usually relies on.

Renae Eze, a spokesperson for GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, said that demands for electricity have set records 26 times since May of this year, but spun that as a demonstration of the awesome success of what were really very modest grid reforms passed by the state legislature last year. But let's celebrate the great job Abbott is doing protecting the grid from women seeking abortions and from transgender teenagers, who probably use more power by being on Instagram or something.

Beto O'Rourke, Abbott's Democratic opponent for governor in November's election, wasn't especially impressed by how brilliantly Texas's grid was just barely staying stitched together. When the request to cut back on power usage went out Sunday, O'Rourke tweeted:

The governor of the 9th largest economy on earth — the energy capital of the world — can’t guarantee the power will stay on tomorrow. We need change.

Then Monday, as everyone on Twitter was wondering where Ted Cruz would head for vacation this time, Beto again called for real improvements to the grid, which has been one of the major themes of his campaign:

We can’t rely on the grid when it’s hot.

We can’t rely on the grid when it’s cold.

We can’t rely on Greg Abbott. It’s time to vote him out and fix the grid.

Soo hooray for Texas for scraping by this time, and let's hope the rest of the summer isn't very warm, because why would it be?

Also, to help prevent strain on the national grid during this heat dome event, let's all reduce energy usage by not wasting any electricity on tweets or blog comments saying "let Texas secede," because come on, the way better thing would be for the state to turn blue, and maybe someday even join the national damn grid.

[Texas Tribune / Texas Monthly / USA Today / Houston Public Media / The Hill via Joe.My.God / Photo: "Chrishna," Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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