Jul 27, 2022 - News

What Texas can do to fix its power grid

Illustration of the state of Texas combined with an electricity pylon whose power lines are damaged and fallen
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

To improve the state's power grid, Texas officials must add both energy control and generation capacity, Javad Mohammadi, a University of Texas at Austin researcher specializing in power grid modernization, tells Axios.

Driving the news: Several times this summer, ERCOT — which operates the power grid covering most of Texas — has asked residents to conserve electricity, fearing that demand might overwhelm the state's power generation capacity.

Why it matters: In addition to the sweat-inducing stress put on Texans worried about losing power and air conditioning in the middle of a record heat wave, a grid failure would be a catastrophic security risk to the state.

  • And as the state's population continues to increase, electricity demand will only continue to grow.

Flashback: Mass power outages during the winter storm of February 2021 led to the deaths of hundreds of people and property damages totaling nearly $200 billion, according to an official after-action report.

The big picture: Capacity can come from both the top down and from the bottom up, Mohammadi says.

  • From the top down, the state must build more transmission lines and more overall generation — in the form of varied energy sources — which will take more time, more political will, and cooperation among multiple state agencies. Like adding a lane to a highway.
  • From the bottom up, residential and commercial end users must be more efficient, which can be done faster, with automation using smart meters and policies implemented at local levels. Like adding traffic signals on surface streets.

Zoom in: Water heaters don't need to heat water while people are at work or asleep, for example. That power could be directed elsewhere.

  • The same is true of commercial refrigeration systems.

Between the lines: Consumer psychology is a big piece of the puzzle, according to Mohammadi. Utility companies and state leaders need to motivate customers to save energy in off-peak hours and share power when possible.

The bottom line: "This is a state that's known for the amount of energy it has," Mohammadi says. "Now we're struggling with the investments we didn't make in infrastructure."

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