UT study connects ERCOT issues from February storms to recent conservation request

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new analysis by University of Texas at Austin researchers about the state’s response to the February winter storms helps explain why Texas’ power administrators made similar pleas to residents to save power in June.

It’s all tied to demand response and preparation, researchers said in the peer-reviewed article published in “Energy Research and Social Science.” While the weather conditions in February and June were polar opposites, it created the same basic issue for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“The 2021 freeze suggests a need to rethink the state’s regulatory approach to energy to avoid such outcomes in the future,” said Joshua Busby, a climate and security expert at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “Weatherization, demand response and expanded interstate interconnections are potential solutions Texas should consider to avoid generation losses, reduce demand, and tap neighboring states’ capacity.”

While the storm created record power demand as people cranked up heaters and furnaces during the single-digit temperatures, an early shot of Texas heat increased demand as folks blasted their air conditioners to cool down. It’s not exactly going to cool off as summer rolls on, and as the UT report points out, the residential sector in Texas consumes more electricity than the commercial sector does. Rather than place the bulk of the demand decrease responsibility on residential consumers, more commercial and industrial customers should take part in demand response programs, the report said.

“Most demand response programs within Texas currently focus on incentivizing load reduction during summer peak periods, and many are available only for commercial and industrial customers,” the report says.

Better communication to consumers also would have helped soften the blow and “reduced the supply-demand gap substantially”, the report said.

“On the consumer side, there was an absolute lack of coordinated, consistent and timely emergency communication to the people of Texas,” said Varun Rai, director of the UT Energy Institute and study co-author. “Households and communities were clueless about what was happening, how to respond, and what to expect next.”

The report goes on to say that even while ERCOT avoids federal regulation because it’s not connected to the national grid, it would be in Texas’ best interest to “prepare for a wide range of possible scenarios, including weather with hotter and colder temperatures, wetter and drier conditions, and intense winds.”

While imported power, if Texas was connected to the national grid, wouldn’t have fully compensated for the power crash in February, the report said it’s plausible that it would have helped to take the edge off mass power outages and people being left freezing in their homes.

“We have to prepare infrastructure not for how the weather was in the 1960s but how it will be in the 2060s,” said Michael Webber, a UT-Austin engineering professor and co-author on the report.

As far as weatherization, the report said Texas lawmakers made well-intended changes on the supply side, forcing power generators around the state to upgrade and protect against extreme weather conditions. However, they didn’t pass anything to help them pay for the upgrades. The report also says nothing was done to address “non-critical” gas fuel facilities.

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