A forecast for a hotter and drier summer than normal has state officials bracing for conditions that could again test the limits of the state’s primary electricity grid.
Managers at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) say the state is better prepared than in 2011, when record heat and drought conditions raised the threat of rolling blackouts.
“Current estimates indicate that we likely will see very tight conditions on the hottest days,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of grid operations. “Although we expect to have more resources available for summer demands than we projected at this time in 2012, we also expect higher demand this year.”
He said Texans should expect to be called on to reduce energy use during times of peak demand, usually between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer.
Weather conditions might cooperate. Although this summer is expected to be hotter and drier than normal, ERCOT meteorologist Chris Coleman said in a media call Friday, “I don’t expect it to approach the extremes of 2011.”
ERCOT’s preliminary summer assessment anticipates a peak demand of 67,998 megawatts against 73,708 megawatts of generation capacity before accounting for power plant outages. Typically, about 2,600 megawatts is offline on any given day due to mechanical failure and such.
The reserve margin — the difference between peak demand and generation capacity — is projected to be slightly less than ERCOT’s target of 13.75 percent.
The Public Utility Commission has been trying to address concerns that demand is outpacing generation capacity because wholesale prices for electricity are too low to attract investment in new power plants.
One thousand megawatts of generation has been added since last summer, but a growing population and an improving economy is expected to increase demand by 1,200 to 1,400 megawatts, said Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s director of system planning.
The PUC has raised the caps on wholesale prices during times of peak demand, hoping to encourage more investment in building power plants.
ERCOT also is conducting a pilot that for the first time pays residential consumers to curb electric use with 30 minutes’ notice. It has had a similar program for larger industrial customers for years.
Wind-powered generation may also play a bigger role during the summer’s peak demand. Texas is the nation’s leader in wind power, but that contributes less on summer afternoons when the wind tends to be calm in West Texas. The addition of more coastal wind farms is increasing the amount of wind power available during the summer peak.
ERCOT, which will update its summer forecast in May, is studying whether to increase its estimate of wind’s contribution to its power reserves.