Eyes of Texans once again on power grid

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In Downtown Dallas, the team at the Reunion Tower wants to set an example for other Texans.

“As the cheerleader of the city, we want to help out in any way we can,” Jenna Guinn said. “We've been replying to ERCOT’s requests and conserving our power in any way we can. So, that’s why, at nighttime, you're seeing our lights come on a little later.”

Although the tower’s 259 bulbs are LED, turning them off helps make a statement.

“It's super easy to turn everything off,” Guinn said. “Our comms center, they are on top of everything. So, they're able to set a timer with our lights. And we also participate in the bird migration. So, you'll see us go a little dim in the fall, and then we can turn the lights off.”

A day after ERCOT issued an Emergency Alert, Texans were asked on Thursday to conserve energy from 5 to 9 p.m.

“We got tighter than we've really seen since February of 2021,” Dr. Joshua Rhodes said. Rhodes is a research scientist at UT Austin and has studied the ERCOT system for the last 14 years. “We actually got into some emergency operations.”

Texas’ grid is powered by a variety of power plants that are powered by natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy.

“It's been a hot summer, and we've had a lot of folks move here. Demand is much higher than we've seen in the past,” Rhodes said. “And since really 2021, we've been running the grid more conservatively, meaning we've been keeping more power plants on for longer periods of time just to keep reserves levels higher.”

However, according to Rhodes, running any machine for long periods of time increases its chance of breaking down.

“Just like the more miles you drive in a car, the more things are going to break over time,” Rhodes said. “And so, if we run these power plants harder, more often… we're putting extra mileage on them that eventually does catch up.”

This summer, ERCOT has set 10 new all-time peak demand records. In addition to the triple-digit heat, low wind, and decrease in solar power, another stress factor for the Texas power grid is its growing population.

“We've seen a lot faster growth this last year than we've seen we've really seen in the past. And we just really haven't built as much power plants at the same rate,” Rhodes said. “If we look over the past couple of years, demand has grown about 1500 megawatts per summer. From last summer to this summer, it's actually grown 6000.”

Which is why Rhodes said cutting back on use of electricity at home does help reduce the overall strain on the system.

“During times of peak demand, residential air conditioning is generally responsible for about half of peak demand,” Rhodes said. “Whenever demand is increasing in these hot afternoons when, you know, folks are leaving work, getting home, starting to make dinner, but it's still hot outside and air conditioners are running still at both and at both ends. We're having to make all of that energy at that time.”

ERCOT has asked Texans to curb their energy use from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Thursday.

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