Texas Might Avoid Blackouts and Brownouts This Summer

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Game of Thrones people like to talk about how "winter is coming" but around here, we all know summer is what you have to be worried about. It's the time when air conditioning is essential, and also the time when a blackout or brownout may see you AC-less. The rolling blackouts and brownouts have been an issue for a while now, but luckily the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (aka ERCOT), Texas' power grid operator, is working on a solution.

ERCOT presented a report to its board of directors this week with an interesting idea -- if electric companies in Texas pay people to not use their power at peak electricity hours, there will totally be more power and fewer blackouts.

Demand response is used by utilities to reward people who use less electricity during times of peak, or high, energy demand. In effect, demand response relies on people, not power plants, to meet the demand for energy, according to a release issued by the Environmental Defense Fund this week. And on January 6th when the Polar Vortex hit Texas, it did just that.

Demand response kept the lights on in Texas by providing more than 600 megawatts of power to the electric grid within 45 minutes, according to the release. Again on Jan, 18, demand response came to the power grid's rescue, when a malfunctioning power plant failed to provide electricity despite mild temperatures and fairly low power demand. And this was just during the Texas winter, which we all know is not the time we most value our electricity and those new-fangled air cooling devices that are all the rage with the kids these days.

ERCOT's Emergency Response Service is a reliability mechanism used during extreme events when the power grid is at risk of rolling blackouts. Part of the program is the procurement of demand response, which was only in the pilot phase last year, but has now been formally adopted, ERCOT said. This program was utilized during the extreme weather events this winter and relied on the participation of hundreds of Texas businesses, schools, local governments and individuals, according to the release.

Also, this week, ERCOT's board approved a new 122-mile circuit transmission line that would cost around $590 million to the Houston area, according to financial news website Platts.com.

ERCOT has determined there will be a need for additional capacity into the Houston region by 2018, [Jeff Billo, ERCOT transmission planning manager] said. In additional to population growth of 100,000 new residents per year, Houston also has almost 40% of the country's petrochemical manufacturing capacity. The Houston region represents about one-fourth of the total ERCOT peak system load.

Still, we're fans of this demand response if it works like they say. Plus, this technology doesn't require water, doesn't pollute, and gives individuals power over their energy use in a refined and personalized way. The environmental folks are hoping, according to the release, that demand response will be all fancy and good for the environment.

We're pretty much just hoping it means the AC stays on when the temperature hits 110 degrees and that the brownouts and blackouts are kept to a minimum this summer. So, if this works out, everybody wins.

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