Texas facing dire threat to aging electrical grid - How can regulators make necessary changes?

Edy Zoo

AUSTIN, TX. - Texas is facing an acute energy crisis, as its aging electrical grid is becoming increasingly unable to meet the state's population growth demands and changing weather patterns. In addition, with extreme weather events becoming more common, Texas must take steps now to ensure its electrical grid can handle these conditions in the future.

The recent cold snap swept across Texas is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of its aging grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) had underestimated the demand for electricity by over 12,000 megawatts the day before the cold front arrived, highlighting existing problems with predicting electricity usage and meeting demand. 

Wind power generation soared as temperatures plunged and northerly winds exceeded 35 mph in many parts of the state. However, when winds died down the day after the cold front passed, thermal power plants and their associated supply chain had to take up the slack. 

Unfortunately, even this was not enough in some cases, with limited resources and self-policing hindering state inspection and implementation of weatherization standards leading to failures at some sites.

Furthermore, natural gas production dropped by 25 percent during this event - an alarming statistic is given how much less severe this weather system was compared to the deep freeze experienced earlier this year. To make matters worse, gas distribution companies in North Texas experienced service interruptions due to conditions created by this latest episode of extreme weather.

Though wind and solar are set to be significant contributors to planned capacity additions in Texas over the coming years, their current utilization rates are well below installed capacity due to weather and time of day factors, meaning they cannot be relied upon solely in times of need. Likewise, current market incentives for additional thermal-plant construction are inadequate - leaving ERCOT struggling to balance supply and demand during severe weather events as renewable energy use continues to increase alongside demand.

Texas utility regulators are already looking at ways to modify electricity markets to accommodate these issues better; however, these changes will not be seen for some time. 

In addition to these changes, Texas should consider implementing a widespread demand response program where customers are rewarded for reducing power consumption during periods of strain on the electrical grid. This is currently done only on an ad-hoc basis by local utilities, retail providers, and bitcoin mining operations who have struck agreements directly with ERCOT itself.

Establishing higher energy efficiency standards for all new buildings is essential to alleviate stress on our aging energy grid. Enhancing this approach with incentive programs that motivate savvy and sustainable power use, rather than plain cost-per-kilowatt hour savings, will grant market forces to control energy efficiency instead of placing all trust in regulatory action or intimidation tactics like possible blackouts.

To avoid repeating disastrous events like those we saw earlier this year – or worse – Texas must act now if it wishes to secure its energy future into tomorrow; strengthening its electrical infrastructure against demands posed by increasing population numbers and ever more frequent extreme weather events alike.

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Edy Zoo is an author who writes about social subjects. He contributes to the ever-growing library of social critics. He approaches local social subjects and local news covering Auburn-Opelika and surrounding cities from an objective point of view. He also holds liberal views.

Auburn, AL
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