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'This summer we could have the worst case' | Concerns mount about Texas power grid and ERCOT amid record heat

“What happens when we lose power during a brutal heat wave?” said Andrew Dessler of the Texas Center of Climate Studies at Texas A&M. “That’s going to be really bad"

TEXAS, USA — Texas residents are not the only ones to take notice of the sweltering temperatures. The Texas power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), is also monitoring the mercury.

It is likely we will not see a break from the high heat this summer. ERCOT said in its Summer Weather Update that this summer closely resembles the summer of 2011. Yet, this summer is trending even hotter than 2011 with 105 degree, or hotter, days being frequent.

That means Texans will continue to be running their air conditioners a lot. That is the number one stressor on the electric grid during the summer. ERCOT has already hit a record for the most demand ever, and that record will likely continue to be broken.

Energy and climate experts said ERCOT needs to plan for extreme weather events whether they are hot or cold weather.

“That’s ERCOT’s whole job to say, 'What’s the worst thing that could happen?'” said Andrew Dessler of the Texas Center of Climate Studies at Texas A&M University. “Is the grid going to stay up and running if that happens? During Winter Storm Uri the grid didn’t stay up during the worst-case scenario. This summer we could have the worst case. Every year in Texas, you can get a worst-case event. This year it’s looking maybe more likely that we have a worst-case heat wave event and ERCOT has to be ready for it if that happens.”

He said it is critical power remain on during extreme weather events because they can be deadly.

“What happens when we lose power during a brutal heat wave?” Dessler said. “That’s going to be really bad. I hope people are prepared. Some people will get in their car and they’ll drive, but a lot of people, if you don’t have a certain level of wealth, you may not have a car or you may not have a credit card. You can’t just get into your car and go somewhere. You’re going to be stuck in a sweltering house.”

The Texas power grid is built to be resilient in hot weather, but Dessler said that does not mean it will not experience problems in long-term, extreme heat.

“The grid is old,” he said. “We haven’t been making the investments necessary in it. The way the ERCOT energy market works, there’s no incentive to have any kind of margin of error on the grid. As a result, we don’t have any margin of error. When things go wrong, we’re going to be short of power."

The report notes the extreme weather events Texas experienced since 2021 including the coldest winter period since the 1980s in February 2021, the warmest December ever recorded in 2021, and one of the hottest springs ever recorded in 2022. Yet, Dessler said there is one item the report does not mention.

“One of the biggest issues with ERCOT is that they don’t acknowledge the existence of climate change,” he said. “It’s hard to be prepared for a problem when you can’t even say the words. That’s really a political issue that they are very cognizant of what the leaders in Austin want them to do. I think that’s to the detriment of the citizens of the State of Texas. If you run a power grid like ERCOT does, you have to be incorporating climate change and they just refuse to do it.”

ERCOT has said it expects to meet the high demand for power. So far, despite record temperatures, there have been no power conservation alerts issued. 

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