Denton and the rest of Texas made it through ERCOT’s requested energy conservation period – 2 to 8 p.m. Monday – despite uncertain grid conditions, with wind turbines being the major trouble spot.
Sweltering Texas temperatures have stressed the state’s power grid through high demand. That isn’t uncommon for the summer period, but the Electric Reliability Council of Texas made an ”appeal” for conservation during the hottest part of the day Monday, in hopes of keeping demand from exceeding power generation.
ERCOT pinned the struggles on two specific factors: record-high electric demand and low wind, which caused wind power generation to grind to a relative halt. According to a news release, wind generation could have been under 10% of its total capacity, with other generation types coming in at over 80%.
Bill Shepherd, Denton Municipal Electric’s executive manager of business services, said Monday afternoon that the power provider has been in communication with ERCOT since Thursday. ERCOT oversees the demand and generation of the entire state power grid, while DME is responsible for taking power off that grid and providing it to customers.
“We’re constantly in communication with ERCOT, but for this event specifically, we started having regular meetings last Thursday,” Shepherd said Monday. “Friday was a real touchy day; the weekend was really tight; and ultimately, today was going to be the tightest day.”
The Texas Tribune reported that ERCOT set a new unofficial peak record of demand on Monday. Total power demand reached 78.3 gigawatts, surpassing Texas’ previous record of 78.2 gigawatts, set on Friday.
Shepherd said demand is fairly easy to project, but that the major variable causing Monday’s grid concerns is the wind generation.
“They have forecasting models every single day and then out into the future that show what the load is going to be,” Shepherd said. “That’s a little bit easier to predict than the wind falling off. … Our megawatts being provided into the grid by the wind turbines across the state are the ones that are struggling right now.”
There are several steps in the process before ERCOT reaches such measures as the infamous blackouts of 2021’s winter storm. As of Monday afternoon, Shepherd said, the agency is making a “soft ask” for conservation. If grid conditions didn’t improve, that would have upgraded to a firmer request.
In the next step, ERCOT will go to specific, large-scale customers and make them cut back on usage. Shepherd explained the agency invests in certain customers so they can be the first ones to cut back on electricity when needed. For example, a large food storage facility could temporarily maintain its cold temperatures while using only 50% of its typical power.
Ultimately, ERCOT could reach the point where it needs wide-scale cuts on power usage, which is where DME would come in.
“For example, our system is about 350 megawatts,” Shepherd said. “We may be asked to reduce our 350 down to 335, so we’re going to contribute 15 megawatts of load reduction, mandated by ERCOT.”
At that point, if the system is working properly, rolling blackouts of about 30-45 minutes each would apply to DME’s service area. DME has no say in applying those blackouts, Shepherd said – it simply provides the electricity from the statewide grid.
So how likely is it that drastic measures would need to be taken? Shepherd said it’s difficult to project out, but wind generation was expected to pick up into the evening hours Monday, which would alleviate the problems. For customers, he suggested checking ERCOT’s online supply and demand graph.
“We like to see the blue line [demand] below the purple line [capacity],” Shepherd said. “When those lines get close, that’s when it gets a little iffy.”
As of about 3 p.m., demand and capacity were indeed very close to each other with five hours remaining on ERCOT’s conservation request. Grid conditions had improved greatly by the time the request ended at 8 p.m.
For Monday’s concerns and any future power events, Shepherd suggested customers check DME’s social media accounts for any urgent updates on their electricity.
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