Risk of outages “very real,” mayor says
By Lina Fisher, 4:18PM, Thu. Sep. 7, 2023
Last night, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) issued its first energy emergency alert since 2021’s winter storm.
Record-breaking heat (read: demand) has caused Texans to almost expect weekly calls for voluntary conservation – yesterday around 6pm marked ERCOT’s 10th call since the summer began. But soon after, power reserves began dropping precipitously, and ERCOT issued a Level 2 emergency alert – the level right below rolling blackouts. Extreme heat has been extending the need for cranked AC longer into the evening as solar power simultaneously winds down, making that the tightest time for the grid; but this was much tighter than usual.
ERCOT has three levels of emergency alerts, and is supposed to call Level 1 first when supply and demand lines get too close. Level 1 allows ERCOT to pull all available energy resources, Level 2 allows it to pay large industrial customers like bitcoin miners to conserve energy, and Level 3 means rolling blackouts. ERCOT went straight to a Level 2 alert, skipping right over Level 1, around 7:30pm last night. That suggests the deficit took them by surprise, though energy experts are still in the dark about the reason. Several speculated that a large power plant went offline, but ERCOT’s only explanation has been “a drop in both operating reserves and frequency.” (If the frequency at which electricity travels throughout the grid gets below around 60 hertz, the grid breaks.) Energy experts also pointed out that what got us through was partly battery storage, which provided a spike of 2,000 megawatts of power between 7 and 8pm.
Tonight, ERCOT has issued yet another call for conservation between 5-9pm (not an energy emergency, yet), prompting a plea from Mayor Kirk Watson: “Conservation efforts have been making a difference so far, but the situation can change with little advance warning,” he said in a press release Thursday afternoon, referencing last night’s close call. “We could face the same situation tonight, and the risk of ERCOT having to implement controlled outages is very real. I’m asking folks to please do whatever they can to conserve, but also be prepared and know that we will keep you apprised as conditions warrant.” If blackouts do happen, they will likely last around 40 minutes before being rotated to a different location. Conditions are forecast to be tightest around 8pm this evening.
To sign up for alerts, visit ercot.com/txans and austinenergy.com/alerts, and check grid conditions here.
In order to conserve energy safely – meaning if you don’t need to keep a medical machine running – turn up your thermostat a few degrees, close off unused rooms if you have a window unit, close shades and curtains to insulate your home, avoid turning on the oven, and unplug unused appliances.
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