Nailbiting on the Texas Grid. It’s Only May.

May 18, 2022

Above, Texas demand projections for today, as well as projected renewable generation

Texas Energy analyst Doug Lewin this morning on Twitter:

#ERCOT projecting demand of 71.7GW. Again, all time *June* record is 70.2GW.

13.3GW of thermal plants offline as of 8am. Up 30% from the weekend & up 700MW since yesterday.

Might be ERCOT let some go back into maintenance bc renewables expected at ~22GW *on peak*.

Chris Tomlinson in the Houston Chronicle:

The Texas electric grid remains broken, and state officials remain sadly focused on enriching fossil fuel companies with patchwork fixes that will run up costs for consumers and sacrifice future reliability.

If Texans don’t speak up quickly, we’ll end up paying more for polluting power plants while missing out on the most profound revolution in electricity service in a half-century.

Over the last two weeks, the heat wave has exposed the critical flaws in the grid operated by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT officials and their bosses at the Public Utility Commission, meanwhile, have misled the public to protect fossil fuel burners.

ERCOT manages the grid that takes electric power from more than 1,000 generators and delivers up to 77 gigawatts across 52,700 miles of transmission lines to 26 million customers. The nonprofit operates a wholesale market where generators compete to offer the cheapest electricity to meet the next day’s needs.

The greater the demand, the higher the price ERCOT will pay based on an algorithm. Offering higher prices is the only method ERCOT possesses to encourage more generation.

ERCOT buys the electricity that consumers need the next day at the lowest possible price. Retail electric providers, municipal utilities and cooperatives buy the power their customers need from ERCOT, which settles the accounts.

Different electricity suppliers offer different amounts of electricity at various prices depending on the time of day. Solar generators, for example, don’t offer electricity at night. Expensive, quick-start natural gas plants offer to generate only when prices are extra high.

But more and more frequently, fossil fuel generators fail to deliver, and ERCOT struggles to keep the lights on.

On Friday, ERCOT called on Texans to conserve electricity because the heat drove up demand, and six generators shut down unexpectedly. ERCOT has not identified the corporations involved, but the power plants were almost certainly fossil fuel generators that overheated or were poorly maintained.

ERCOT’s news release, though, featured deeply misleading statistics that implied renewable energy sources were the culprit.

Generation is broken into three categories: thermal, wind and solar. Thermal is nuclear and fossil fuels. ERCOT’s chart showed how much each resource contributed to the grid as a percentage of installed capacity, which is the maximum amount of juice a generator could produce when running at full speed.

Wind power looked like a laggard at 4 p.m. Friday, generating only 17 percent of capacity. Solar looked good at 73 percent, while thermal was a solid 66 percent. But this data serves no purpose but to confuse the public and give climate-denying politicians a talking point to justify burning more coal and natural gas.

No operator runs their fossil fuel equipment at full speed for very long out of fear of causing irreparable damage. Wind and solar can run at full capacity, but they rarely do because there are not enough transmission lines to deliver the electricity where it’s needed.

Just as the sun shines only during the day, Texas wind blows strongest at night. A chart showing the wind energy supply is shaped like a “u,” dropping off at midday. Solar looks like an “n,” surging in the afternoons. They complement each other very well; we need more of both. (below)

Wind, red, vs solar energy, blue, in Texas last week.

We also need more transmission. Last Wednesday, wind and solar generators were producing so much electricity in West Texas that local power prices were minus $10 a megawatt-hour. Wind operators had to feather their blades to slow production at the exact moment the wholesale price in Houston was more than $4,000, 10 times the average price. There just wasn’t enough transmission to carry the power to where it was needed.

Looking at the data from Friday, wind and solar delivered what they promised. Fossil fuel generators did not, which is why ERCOT issued a warning. Wind and solar also outperformed during much of the 2021 February freeze, but pro-fossil fuel politicians still use the “percentage of installed capacity” statistic to slander renewable energy.

Public Utility Chairman Peter Lake keeps talking about needing more fossil fuel plants and paying them more. The PUC has hired a fossil fuel consultant to rewrite the grid rules, probably favoring coal and natural gas operators. But what ERCOT needs is more transmission lines and a smarter grid.

We need batteries installed at neighborhood transformers to store the wind energy from the night before. We need more computer apps that reduce demand when prices spike. Finally, we need more energy-efficient buildings so we waste less.

Most of all, though, we need public officials who tell us which generators are failing Texans instead of pushing skewed statistics.

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