Summer Heat Could Wreak Havoc On Texas’ Grid

Texans need to be prepared for the grid to fail. Again. A new bombshell report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) shows that while Texas has made some progress in increasing surplus energy flow to the grid for times of heightened demand, power is going to be extremely tight this summer, and Texans should prepare to expect rolling blackouts during the hottest months of the year.

The recently released 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment found that Texas, along with parts of California and the Southwest, are in an “elevated risk category of energy emergencies.” The extra pressure on the grid comes from a combination of abnormally high temperatures and doubt conditions, poor upkeep and maintenance of generators across Texas, persistent supply chain issues, and increasing demand. NERC also sighted cyber threats, wildfires, and a shortage of coal generation inputs as major issues that they will be monitoring as the days grow hotter and sufficient energy supply to the grid becomes more vulnerable.

While Texas still lacks the energy capacity necessary to meet demand at its highest points during extreme weather conditions, NERC acknowledges that Texas has made concerted efforts to mitigate the issue. The Lone Star State has increased its anticipated reserve margins, largely thanks to the increased installation of solar and wind power capacity. Overall, Texas’ renewable energy capacity is 4,100 megawatts higher than last year. This increase in solar and wind capacity does not come without its own challenges, however. The industry is still working out what to do about “solar trips,” when solar resources shut off due to circuit problems or grid disturbances such as lightning or fires.

Texas's much-maligned grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), was touting the recent increases in reserve energy capacity just the day before NERC dropped its sobering report. "Two years ago we had 12%,” said ERCOT interim President and CEO Brad Jones. “Last year we had 15 to 16 and this year we have 23% reserves. So, you can see our reserves have grown over each of those years. We feel very confident about our position this summer." That confidence now rings as ironic in the face of Texas’ elevated risk category for summertime energy emergencies.

Despite ERCOT’s gains, University of Houston Energy Fellow Ed Hirs says Texas has not done enough. "We have less dispatchable power on the grid than we did last summer,” Hirs said. “We have about 63,000 plus megawatts available. That's about a thousand megawatts less than we had last summer. Demand is growing." And at the same time that ERCOT is boasting that it’s ready for summer, they had to call for energy conservation over the weekend as several generators failed.

Texas needs to invest in generators in a big hurry. Typically spring provides a respite from extreme temperatures and an opportunity to work on the grid and generational capacity, but early heat waves have already put a near-maximum strain on the grid in 2022. What’s more, generators are loath to invest in expansion at a time when inflation is high, cash is tight, and they’re not sure who is going to pick up the bill. The Houston Chronicle reports that so far, Texan consumers are bearing the brunt of it.

The long and short of it is that the grid just can’t keep up with increasing pressures of demand and market volatility. The old rulebook for planning and operating energy reserves for the summer months is out the window. “Now we’re really looking at extreme weather,” NERC Director of Reliability Assessment and Performance Analysis John Moura said Wednesday. “And what we’ve all learned in recent history, is that extreme doesn’t mean rare.”

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com