ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, has warned of potential widespread power outages in the event of severe winter weather similar to last year’s freezing storm.
Despite efforts to bolster power reserves by urging the reactivation of natural gas and coal plants, the initiative faced limited participation and was ultimately canceled. Here are key insights into the risk of blackouts this winter, as first reported by The Dallas Morning News:
- Probability of Rolling Blackouts:
ERCOT estimates a 14.4% chance of ordering controlled outages if Texas experiences a severe winter storm akin to Storm Uri, which happened in December 2022. This probability increases to 16.8% in January, according to the grid operator.
- Peak Risk Time:
The hour of 8 a.m. poses the greatest risk for blackouts, attributed to increased electricity demand as people wake up, use heaters, and engage in morning activities.
- Factors Contributing to Risk:
The growing population and businesses in Texas, with a population exceeding 30 million in 2022, contribute to energy shortages. Despite advancements in wind and solar energy, the state faces challenges due to a lack of new dispatchable power plants.
In summary, Texas faces a heightened risk of blackouts during extreme winter weather, primarily driven by a surge in energy demand, aging power infrastructure, and potential weather-related challenges.
After Winter Storm URI, ERCOT started implementing weatherization standards for power plants. Widespread inspections have ensured compliance, and an incentive program to encourage power plants to maintain backup fuel supplies was created.
However, these measures might not be enough considering the potential impact of El Niño, which is a climate phenomenon characterized by the periodic warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.
For Texas and beyond, this phenomenon generally means cooler temperatures and more precipitation. Meaning ERCOT might not the only power grid that could see energy shortages this winter.