“The whole generation fleet has really been performing well so far during this winter event,” ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas told WFAA.
DALLAS — So, it’s cold again in Texas.
And after a February 2021 winter storm left millions in the dark, Texans have PTSD about the state’s power grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, better known as ERCOT.
We asked ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas and power grid experts how the grid’s holding up.
“The whole generation fleet has really been performing well so far during this winter event,” Vegas told WFAA. “The traditional thermal plants are performing really well. We’ve had very little icing on windmills. They’ve been running it, you know, as much as the wind is available for them, they’ve been running.”
ERCOT projects demand to exceed supply Tuesday morning. As a result, ERCOT has issued a second conservation appeal. How concerned should we be?
Concerned yes, but not overly so. It will get colder across much of the state tomorrow morning, driving demand up. And tomorrow isn’t a holiday, so more people will be at work.
“If the supply is lower than the demand, it would be brief, just for an hour or two, because solar power will be ramping up during the day, which will help. As the solar power ramps up, it not only gives us more supply, it warms things,” said Michael Webber, a power grid expert and engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “I’m not that worried, frankly”.
Do I need to worry about losing electricity this week due to a rolling blackout?
Webber and energy expert Doug Lewin say the odds of rotating outages are remote. There have been and will be isolated outages, but those will not related to grid failures. Instead , it’ll be the result of downed power lines and other problems not related to the grid.
“If they happen, they likely would not affect a large number of people, and they likely would not last very long,” Lewin said.
ERCOT forecasts it would need more than 83,000 megawatts Monday morning. However, the actual demand came in at about 74,000 megawatts. Why the difference?
Vegas told WFAA that predicting demand is one of the most difficult tasks at ERCOT, because it demands on so many variables, including wide fluctuations in temperatures across the state. He also says that ERCOT set an unofficial winter reform Monday of morning of just under 76,000 megawatts, and he expects another record to be set Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Webber agrees it’s difficult for ERCOT to project demand.
“It’s hard for them to really know with great precision until the moment happens,” he said. “They have to estimate it based on prior patterns and histories and behaviors. And they did a conservation appeal, and a lot of us changed our heating patterns for that purpose. So we’re responding to ERCOT feedback. They have to do a conservative estimate and aim higher, so they’re prepared.”
How is this winter weather different than the winter storm of 2021 that resulted in millions losing power and the grid almost failing?
According to WFAA’s meteorologist Jesse Hawila, this year’s winter storm isn’t as widespread, intense and long lasting. The 2021 winter storm had lows as cold as -2 at DFW and the below freezing temps lasted almost 48 hours longer than what we will see with this event. The entire state was under a winter storm warning in 2021, so that made it even worse because the wintry precipitation side of it was expansive. Right now, it’s in the 60s in El Paso and Big Bend. This event precipitation was really just north and east Texas, and a little in southeast and central. Hawila says the weather models forecast we will be back above freezing by late Wednesday morning.
How has ERCOT improved the grid from 2021 for situations like this week?
The state legislature passed reforms as a result of the 2021 storm. Those reforms required power generators to winterize their power plants. It also required that natural gas pipelines that feed into power plants be identified and mapped, so that power would not be cut to them.
ERCOT is asking us to conserve energy. Does this actually help?
Yes, it does. Vargas says ERCOT saw both residential and industrial customers slow their demand during the time period Monday morning that ERCOT had asked for conversation.
What role has battery storage played in helping us during this winter storm?
Vegas says batteries have been a huge help.
“We’ve got just under 5000 megawatts of batteries in service right now,” he said. “We’re utilizing all of them throughout the day. And they’ve been performing great.”
Many of the state’s power plants rely on natural gas. During 2021 winter storm, many of the state’s power plants went offline because they could not get natural gas. What’s the current situation with natural gas and the state’s power grid?
Vegas says gas pipeline operators have bene cooperating with ERCOT and keeping the grid operator up to speed on operational issues that could impact power generators.
But critics say not enough has been done to ensure transparency of natural gas operators.
“If (power plants) can’t get their fuel, then they’re not going to operate and we don’t really know about gas supply as of right now,” Lewin said. “The information kind of trickles in. There’s multiple dashboards for the power grid. You can see what’s going on in real time… There’s no dashboard on the (Texas) Railroad Commission site to tell you how much gas output has dropped.”
“That’s not good for us consumers in the end,” said Webber said.
Will there be another conservation appeal Wednesday morning?
That remains to be seen, Vegas said. It depends on how much temperatures rise, and the amount of wind that’s available.
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