Dallas, Tx Rolling Blackouts: When Will It Stop?
During weather extremes, the danger of power outages in Texas rises. As solar power and wind turbines might not yet be enough to satisfy the peak demand, ERCOT relies on all its available resources to ensure grid reliability and prevent rolling blackouts. During times of energy emergency, you may be asked to conserve energy and reduce your AC use during extreme heat.
With this in mind, let’s consider what rolling blackouts, rotating outages, and calls for energy conservation are. As they are all different but serve the same purpose, it may be useful to learn the difference between them and to see what grid operators do to avoid rolling blackouts. As electricity demand rises in the summer, the power supplies work extra hard to compensate for the increased usage, and grid operators have to take every measure they can to ensure a steady power supply during the high-demand times.
What is ERCOT?
Stabilizing the grid that is supposed to serve over 28 million Texas residential electricity and large consumers (the industry and the commercial sector) is not an easy job, especially considering that Texas has energy deregulation in place. In fact, the job is so demanding that ERCOT (Electrical Reliability Council Of Texas) was established, to ensure that all power plants, power suppliers, as well as transmission and distribution systems work together to ensure that the grid remains operable.
ERCOT oversees energy production, transmission, and final distribution to both residential and commercial customers. In doing so, they ensure that the market is fair for all parties involved. However, in cases of emergency, ERCOT can take necessary steps to ensure that grid reliability and safety are preserved.
Energy Conservation Request
When ERCOT deems it necessary, they can issue an ‘Energy Conservation Request’. Since 2000, this request has been issued more than 50 times. This request is publicly announced and if you hear or see such a request, you should reduce your power use. You do not have to bring the electricity usage down to zero, but rather take the following steps:
- Switch off lights in any rooms you are not using,
- Unplug unused appliances,
- Unplug major appliances, such as electric heaters, stoves, and ovens,
- Reduce the thermometer set in the winter or increase it in the summer. A 10-degree difference can reduce your electricity use by no less than 10%.
A part of ERCOT’s job is to ensure that the grid remains up and operating at all times. However, during weather extremes, both heat and cold, this may prove to be difficult. Namely, weather extremes influence the grid and electricity usage on two sides of the spectrum: supply and demand.
The supply part of the grid has difficulties keeping up with the demand during weather extremes. Particularly cold weather reduces the efficiency of power plants, especially those running on natural gas, as it can freeze in pipes and reduce the amount of electricity that can be produced.
On the other hand, the demand increases during extreme weather events. As the temperature goes down, many Dallas residents turn up their heating. During the summer, they may choose to crank up their AC unit. All this puts additional stress on the grid, which may fail under the increasing load.
To prevent this from happening, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) can issue warnings that ask citizens to decrease their energy use. In this case, the energy emergency is declared publicly and the level of energy emergency is stated. Let’s consider this in more detail:
ERCOT Levels of Alerts
ERCOT has a total of 5 levels of alerts:
- Normal Condition,
- Conservation Alert,
- Energy Emergency Alert Level 1 (EEA1),
- Energy Emergency Alert Level 2 (EEA2), and
- Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 (EEA3).
Each of these levels gives ERCOT access to different protocols and tools that they may use to ensure that businesses and residential customers have the best possible access to the grid and energy grid. ERCOT may undertake even extreme measures to ensure that the grid remains operable for most consumers. Let’s consider the steps that they can undertake at each level of an energy emergency.
Under normal conditions, the Texas grid operates fully and is available to all customers, including commercial and industrial customers. The total reserve capacity that is ready to kick in in case a power plant goes offline or there are sudden increases in electricity demand is higher than 3,000 MW. This is a normal state of affairs that demands very little input from ERCOT – simple actions to maintain the grid are all they do.
The first level of power emergency is when the grid experiences a low peak demand that the current online capacity cannot handle. As consumers use more and more electricity (usually around 7 PM, the grid may not be able to handle the extra load, and the reserve capacity falls to between 2,300 MW and 3,000 MW. A conservation alert is issued and in most cases, the situation is expected to resolve within 30-45 minutes, as the demand falls.
Energy Emergency Alert Level 1 (EEA1)
If the emergency persists, and the peak demand is not decreased, once the reserve supplies fall to between 1,750 MW and 2,300 MW, the Level 1 Emergency Alert is issued. This means that ERCOT will start using all available capacities, including interstate connections and connections to other grids to pump in as much electricity as possible into the Texas grid.
Energy Emergency Alert Level 2 (EEA2)
In case these measures do not give effect, ERCOT can declare Energy Emergency Level 2 (EEA2). This alert is issued only when the reserve capacity falls to anywhere between 1,000 MW and 1,750 MW and is expected to last for at least 30 minutes. If despite all capacities being used and interconnections to other grids being utilized, the situation does not resolve, large industrial customers can be switched off only if their agreement with the utility company states that they volunteer to be in the emergency shut-off program.
Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 (EEA3)
The final energy emergency level is EEA3. In this case, the reserve capacity falls below the 1,000 MW (or 1 GW) capacity and is not expected to resolve on its own within 30 minutes. After the industrial capacities have been shut down, ERCOT can order local utilities to start shutting down residential areas as needed to preserve power plants and grid stability. Rolling blackouts, as these periods of electricity are called, are used to control the demand and ensure a fair supply of the remaining power capacities.
A common misconception is that the 2021 Texas Blackout happened due to a human factor, or mismanagement of the grid. In reality, the grid needs modernization, generators need to be weatherized and more batteries added to the grid to supply peak consumption. However, what started as a proven practice of controlled rolling blackouts soon ended up being too much to handle, as the grid was simply not ready for the extreme weather event.
Types of Outages
Despite all the efforts made by those who control and maintain the grid, outages may still happen. This is usually the case during weather extremes, especially those that at the same time increase the demand and can knock offline power plants in an area. As this happens, both unplanned and planned outages can happen. However, not all outages are the same, as not all of them have the same scope.
A grid outage is usually a planned outage and is used as a tool to temporarily decrease energy consumption during peak demand hours. It may not always be necessary and is used as a last-resort measure to decrease the load on the network. As energy consumption rises beyond the ability of the grid to handle it and the reserve capacity to make up for it, ERCOT can issue a warning of an incoming grid outage.
If this happens, it will be publicly announced and the information will be available in the media and on the ERCOT website. As ERCOT is the largest supplier of energy in Texas, if there is an outage planned, you will be informed. As a combination of factors brings instability to the grid, parts of the grid will be shut off in what is called ‘rolling blackouts’ or ‘rotating outages’.
A grid outage is widespread and it can include the entire grid, depending on different factors and weather conditions. So, while portions of the grid may still be receiving some electricity, some may be left entirely without it. This is, however, a normal occurrence and should not frighten you too much. After all, receiving a current that is not strong enough can damage your appliances and devices, so a rolling blackout can potentially save you thousands of dollars.
In any case, the electricity service will be back as soon as the maintenance is finished. In case you experience a power outage, you do not need to assume these are rolling blackouts. As consumption rises, local problems are the most likely culprit behind no or unreliable electricity supply. In most cases, however, you should contact your local utility and check with them:
- Austin Energy,
- AEP Texas,
- CenterPoint Energy,
- CPS Energy,
- Texas-New Mexico Power, and
Causes of Outages
A local outage, on the other hand, can happen for a myriad of reasons. Smaller portions of the grid can be endangered by:
- Fallen trees and tree branches,
- A car hitting an electricity pole,
- Local grid maintenance and other works that require that power be shut off,
- Local issues with the power supply, especially malfunction of transformer boxes and stations,
- A lightning striking,
- An ice storm breaking high-voltage wires, and many more.
In case there are expected rolling blackouts or rotating outages, all these utility services will inform you over SMS or email.
Difference Between Grid & Local Outages
The main difference between a grid and a local outage is in the scope of the outage itself. Unlike grid outages, which are expected and are used on large portions of the grid to reduce the load in a planned manner, local outages happen for a variety of reasons and are mostly unplanned. The only kind of local outage that is planned is shutting down electricity (in an area as small as single stress) for maintenance or modernization purposes.
What is a Rolling Blackout?
A rolling blackout is a planned or expected blackout. It cannot happen at all times and is only reserved as the last-line-of-defense measure to stabilize the grid and prevent a nationwide blackout. Rolling blackouts or rotating outages can only happen in EEA 3, and only ERCOT can declare them. A rolling blackout should not be mistaken for local outage. They should also not be mistaken for brownouts.
Causes of Rolling Blackout
There are not many causes that may result in rolling blackouts. Electricity supply and demand on a large scale are the most common culprit. These can happen for a variety of reasons, although they mostly include:
- Hot weather extremes,
- Cold weather extremes, and
- Subsequent knock offline of one or more major power plants.
Why Does Rolling Blackout Happen?
When weather events like these take place, rolling blackouts happen. It is important to understand that these are not unexpected events. Quite on the contrary, even if you do not have electricity, you can rest assured that the electricity will be back, usually within the next 10-45 minutes. Rolling blackouts protect the grid by making all consumers take an equal load of the issue.
ERCOT Preventive Measures
To ensure that the winter of 2021 scenario does not happen again, the authorities have made grid reliability their top priority. This means that the entire grid will be weatherized and that more storage capacity will be added to the grid. At the same time, it means that more power plants will be kept up and running, while ERCOT continues to monitor the entire network.
A part of the weatherization efforts means that the load will be kept more stable both in the summer and in the winter. In the summertime, the weatherization of both fuel delivery systems and power plants will likely make power plants more efficient and capable of handling larger loads. In the wintertime, on the other hand, better insulation will keep natural gas flowing and less likely to freeze and obstruct the pipes.
At the same time, this weatherization means that the vehicles and roads in charge of delivering solid fuels (such as coal) to the related power plants will be more closely monitored, better maintained, and prepared for cold spells. This should all decrease the capacity that is lost during these extreme weather events. At the same time, higher efficiency means that each power plant will be able to take over more of a demand load, which skyrockets during extreme weather events.
Grid modernization is another part of the efforts to avoid rolling blackouts. The most notable example includes smart meters, which will be able to deliver more accurate information to the grid operators and do so in real time. Modernization efforts will also be able to solve the issue of electricity loss, especially during cold and hot spells.
As a lot of Texas residents have been left to wonder what is it that they can do to help in the event of the next rolling blackout, the best thing to do is to reduce your energy consumption before this happens. This can include things as simple as switching your lights for energy-efficient LEDs. It can also mean installing new major appliances, such as a heat pump for home and residential hot water heating.
Lowering your thermostat can also help a lot, as each degree lower during winter and higher during summer means around 1% less energy is used. It may not seem like much, but if all 28 million Texans reduced their power consumption by one percent, the risk of a rolling blackout would be much lower.
Which States Have the Most Blackouts?
Texas is not the only state that suffers power outages. It is also not the state with the most frequent outages. Here is a list of the 5 us states that experience the most blackouts every year:
3. New York,
4. Ohio, and
How Long do Texas Rolling Blackouts Last?
Texas rolling blackouts normally last 10-45 minutes. A rolling blackout is also known as a rotating outage and is supposed to hit different areas for different periods. These outages are controlled and expected and are there to help the grid handle the electricity demand load.
What Would Happen if the US Power Grid Went Down?
The US has a total of three grids. All of them are very large and very reliable. It is unlikely that an entire country loses power, but if this happens, the following may happen:
• It would take weeks to restore everything online,
• Businesses would be closed,
• Banks, hospitals, etc. would be closed as well, (Hospitals have emergency generators themselves, but they can only supply power for a limited amount of time),
• Communications would be interrupted, especially as signal antennas and the Internet rely on electricity for service,
• In homes, HVAC systems, lights, stoves, freezers, and fridges would not work,
• Water service would be discontinued in many US households, especially in large cities and low-lying towns.
Is the US Power Grid in Danger?
The US power grid is not in danger, but it is not yet ready for a complete switch to renewable energy. The US power grid needs more modernization and weatherization efforts to be able to handle the intermediacy of renewable energy power supply and the increasing electricity usage due to more EVs hitting the US roads each year.
Rolling blackouts are a sign that the grid has difficulties handling the load that may be taking place as you read this article. Although uncomfortable, rolling blackouts are expected events and are only undertaken in extreme measures, if all other grid-preserving efforts fail. For this reason, it is necessary to stay alert when power emergencies are declared and do your bit to help reduce your power usage.