KPRC 2 Investigates: Can the power grid handle the summer heat?

Again this week, we’ve broken the record for electricity usage in a day. All of this 100-plus degree heat has people concerned about the state’s power grid keeping up with the demand. You may remember when the February 2021 freeze left millions in the dark after the state power grid couldn’t keep up. So, can the grid handle the heat?

“Heat can be detrimental to your lives,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The “Beat the Heat” program to bring A/C units to those in need is up and running. And - Houston and Harris County leaders stress - don’t try to tough it out in this heat.

“If you’ve got air conditions and they are working, I would prefer that you turn them on and utilize them,” said Turner.

But staying at home means using electricity, and there’s already a strain on the power grid. ERCOT says one megawatt can power about 200 homes. Still, the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, says they are prepared.

ERCOT summer power usage

Peak demand is expected at 77,317 megawatts

Available to meet demand 91,392 megawatts

Can the state's power grid handle the heat? KPRC2 Investigates is getting answers. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

But Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston, said concerns over enough generation are warranted. Texas has fewer generations now than it did more than a decade ago.

“That dispatchable fleet, what they call thermal generators that you can turn on and turn off, has shrunk,” explains Hirs.

In May, some power plants went offline, causing ERCOT to ask Texans to conserve energy.

“Six units trip off and we had 20,000 megawatts of dispatchable power that wasn’t available due to maintenance,” said Hirs.

This shows - even though ERCOT says there is enough generating capacity to meet demand - there are still scenarios where rolling blackouts could occur.

“Pointed weather interruptions, plants having unexpected outages, in other words, maintenance, or some other part of the grid breaking down,” said Hirs.

Hirs also points out some good news: ERCOT has renewable energy to rely on.

“We do have significant wind and significant solar energy assets that are contributing,” he said.

You can see how that solar energy plays a role in daily energy usage on ERCOT’s website.

Can the state's power grid handle the heat? KPRC2 Investigates is getting answers. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

They also have real-time supply and demand usage updates along with “current grid” conditions.

Can the state's power grid handle the heat? KPRC2 Investigates is getting answers. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

More info about the Beat the Heat program

Reliant announced it is donating $75,000 to help provide portable air conditioning units to senior citizens, disabled individuals, and families without the means to cool their homes. To apply for the air conditioning units, call the Harris County Area Agency on Aging at 832-393-4301.

Additionally, the Houston Health Department operates 11 multi-service centers where residents can go to stay cool. You can find a list of locations and more details here.


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