Updated Jul 20, 2018

Texas meets grid challenge during record-breaking energy demand

A natural gas power plant outside Dallas. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

ERCOT, the electricity grid that serves most of Texas, delivered more power on Wednesday than it ever had, only to deliver even more on Thursday, setting a new system-wide peak demand record of 73,259 megawatts. Friday’s demand is forecasted to be even higher, but the worst might not come until Monday.

Why it matters: The Texas grid is an energy-only market, which, unlike capacity markets, pays power plants only when they produce energy. This summer has been seen as a make-or-break test for this market strategy, and so far it is passing.

Background: The ERCOT market is lean, so the power plants are not typically guaranteed to make money. And because the price of natural gas has continued to stay low, some technologies, mostly coal, have had to exit the market. In just the past year, about 25% of the Texas’ coal fleet retired. This has left margins relatively tight, and more coal retirements are planned.

During peak hours, electricity prices soared into the thousands of dollars per megawatt-hour (they’re usually in the mid to upper 20s). Almost half of ERCOT’s summer peak demand comes from residential air-conditioning. This heat wave is not over, and is only getting more intense.

But ERCOT has yet to use all of its tools to keep the lights on. If reserves fall much lower than they did on Thursday, scarcity pricing starts to take effect, rising almost exponentially until the market hits the price cap of $9,000 per megawatt-hour. As reserves fall below 2,300 megawatts, all available resources are deployed. If reserves fall below 1,750 megawatts, ERCOT can, under prearranged contracts, reduce demand via voluntary load reduction and even transfer some load to other grids. If reserves fall below 1,000 megawatts, utilities are instructed to implement rotating blackouts.

The bottom line: So far, ERCOT is managing the grid well. There are more tests to come, and prices are likely to be very high over the next few days, but this is normal. Energy-only markets are designed to use power plants more efficiently, and that means that lower average prices come at the cost of higher high prices.

Joshua Rhodes is a research associate in the Webber Energy Group and the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,383,582 — Total deaths: 344,077 — Total recoveries — 2,158,031Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,640,972 — Total deaths: 97,679 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Federal judge strikes down Florida law requiring felons to pay fines before voting

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: oe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Sunday ruled that a Florida law requiring convicted felons to pay all court fines and fees before registering to vote is unconstitutional.

Why it matters: The ruling, which will likely be appealed by state Republicans, would clear the way for hundreds of thousands of ex-felons in Florida to register to vote ahead of November's election.

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced that beginning at 11:59 pm ET on Thursday, President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.