Can Texas power grid withstand the heat? Energy expert weighs in as scorching summer approaches

Triple digit temperatures in Texas already putting strain on grid

SAN ANTONIO – The recent heatwave has many people concerned about whether the Texas power grid can keep up with the demand and usage as we head into the summer.

San Antonio is already seeing record-breaking temperatures, and all signs point to a hotter-than-average summer. Triple-digit temperatures across the state have already put a strain on the state’s power grid.

“We are hitting numbers this week that ordinarily we wouldn’t hit until August,” said Ed Hirs, Energy Fellow at University of Houston. “It’s putting a quite a significant strain on the generating assets.”

ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, expects a summer peak demand of 77,317 megawatts, but stated in a May report there are more than 91,000 megawatts available to meet that demand.

Hirs said ERCOT will have to rely on renewable energy this summer to top off the grid.

“We do have significant wind and significant solar energy assets that are contributing,” he said.

But Hirs said concerns over enough generation are warranted. He said Texas has less generation now than it did more than a decade ago.

“We have less of that sort of generation, the natural gas, the coal, hydro and nuclear plants than we had 12 years ago,” he said. “That dispatchable fleet, what they call thermal generators that you can turn on and off, has shrunk. So, we’re obviously relying upon wind and solar to shore up the grid.”

Hirs also pointed to some plants that went offline last month, causing ERCOT to ask Texans to conserve energy and keep thermostats at 78 degrees.

“Six units trip off and we had 20,000 megawatts of dispatchable power that wasn’t available due to maintenance,” Hirs said.

And while ERCOT has reported there will be enough generation capacity to meet demand, Hirs said there are still scenarios where rolling blackouts could occur across the state.

“Pointed weather interruptions or plants having unexpected outages. In other words, maintenance or some other part of the grid breaking down,” he said.

Hirs expects the state to meet maximum demand this summer. With soaring temperatures this week, the grid is already being tested daily.

“Somewhere in the 75,000 to 77,000 megawatts. We only have 63,000-plus of of dispatchable power. We need essentially 12,000 megawatts of wind and solar everyday to top us when we’re facing a week like we are this week. It’s hot,” Hirs said.

ERCOT officials have said they are ready to meet the demand, stating in the May report that “summer capacity planning reserve margin is forecasted at 22.8% after accounting for forecasted customer demand, emergency demand reduction programs, typical unplanned outages, and typical renewable output.”

“There’s no question the grid’s better than it was this time last year,” Hirs said. “The governor says it’s never been more reliable, but if you’re getting up off the floor, any kind of movement is better than it was.”

About the Authors

RJ Marquez is the traffic anchor/reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He also fills in as a news anchor and has covered stories from breaking news and Fiesta to Spurs championships and high school sports. RJ started at KSAT in 2010. He is proud to serve our viewers and be a part of the culture and community that makes San Antonio great.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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