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Even In A Pandemic, Texas Is Expected To Break Electricity Use Records This Summer

The control room at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texans.
Julia Reihs
The control room at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texans.

The group that operates the Texas electric grid expects the state to break records for peak electricity use this summer, despite the fact that people are using less electricity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its  Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas forecasts yet another hotter-than-average summer. That combined with continued population growth means the state's electric demand will increase, even while it is dampened by the pandemic.

Pete Warnken, ERCOT’s manager of resource adequacy, says there should be enough electricity available to meet everyone’s needs, though “an extreme heat wave or low wind generation or an unusual amount of generation outages could still mean that emergency alerts need to be declared.”

Those alerts include calls to conserve electricity if the state gets close to its reserve margin, which is the amount of extra energy on hand beyond what operators believe to be peak demand.

This summer’s assessment is a big shift from last year’s. In 2019 ERCOT was confronting its smallest ever electricity reserve margin. Some wondered if rolling blackouts would be in the cards, but the grid made it through without ERCOT needing to cut anyone’s power.

This year almost all of the new electricity available is from renewable sources.

“I think it’s probably over 90% of the new generation is renewables,” Warnken said. “We’re seeing a lot more solar development coming online.”

About half of summer peak electricity use comes from air conditioning. That means heat is a big factor in predicting demand. In line with global warming, Texas has seen hotter and hotter summers both in terms of average temperatures and the number of triple digit days the state experiences.

Warnken says ERCOT does not use global warming climate models to forecast summer heat, but it does use heating trends over time to make predictions.

“We estimate the model parameters going back 10 to 12 years,” Warnken said. “So we are picking up the trend in the warmer temperatures.”

Got a tip? Email Mose Buchele at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter  @mosebuchele

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Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.