Can Texas’ grid handle the summer heat? Local experts weigh in
Another sweltering Dallas-Fort Worth summer is almost upon us. As the area braces for hundred-degree temperatures and high energy demand, will the power grid hold up its end of the bargain? And will this summer be hotter than others?
How does Texas produce and use energy?
Bruce Bullock, director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute.(SMU Cox School of Business)
Two grids — the Eastern and Western Interconnections — power most of the United States, but most of Texas has its own energy grid, run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The state, therefore, needs to generate most of its energy for residents to keep their lights on.
On the bright side, there’s no shortage of ways to do so. Texas has a diversity of energy sources, from wind and solar to coal, nuclear and natural gas.
“Fuel sources are not a problem,” said Bruce Bullock, director of Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute.
The issue, he says, has more to do with the grid’s ability to convert and transmit energy to homes and offices. Energy demand grows every year as Texas’ population increases, and it’s tough to build the infrastructure to keep up. Brownouts and blackouts can happen when energy demand exceeds supply.
What could set this summer apart?
Tom Seng, a professor at TCU's Ralph Lowe Energy Institute. (Texas Christian University)
In early May, ERCOT projected that Texans’ lights should stay on this summer — barring any extreme scenarios. Brownouts could be caused by a combination of hundred-degree temperatures, outages at fossil fuel plants, and low outputs from wind and solar farms.
Tom Seng of Texas Christian University’s Ralph Lowe Energy Institute feels optimistic about the summer, based on ERCOT’s Summer Weather Readiness Report.
“They believe they can handle a peak this summertime,” he said. “I believe the data supports that.”
The February 2021 Texas blackouts were largely caused by “freeze-offs” that halted natural gas production at power plants. Of course, that won’t be an issue during the summer, Seng said.
This summer, meteorologists are predicting an El Niño, a climate pattern where water surface temperatures increase in the eastern Pacific Ocean. An El Niño could raise summer temperatures but may also bring more rain to the southern U.S., including Texas. Its effect on energy demand is hard to predict.
“That’s kind of a wildcard at the moment,” Seng said.
Related: UNT anthropologist explores how heat affects North Texans’ physical, and mental health
Texas’ power grid, Bullock said, is most strained in the late afternoon and early evening, when air conditioners are chugging away to stave off the heat.
“You have people still at the office, but you also have people that are coming home, turning on the widescreen, starting to fix themselves something to eat,” Bullock said.
This summer, he said, Texans should monitor local weather forecasts and check for energy conservation alerts from electricity companies. The ERCOT app also allows Texans to see how the grid is faring in real time.
But Texans can do their part to conserve energy, Seng said. A few ways include switching off the lights when not in a room, avoiding charging phones overnight, and turning on ceiling fans instead of cranking up the AC.
Seng is gearing up for his first Texas summer. Having spent the past 40 years in Tulsa, Okla., he feels somewhat prepared. The summer can be unpredictable, but out of all states, he feels Texas is most ready to take it on.
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