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Forecasting Texas’ Grid Conditions with ERCOT

Imagine Texas’ electric grid as a giant interconnected electric puzzle with pieces that change and vary. This massive complex puzzle comprises a variety of pieces, such as power generation plants, transmission lines, substations, and other grid utility infrastructure parts which provide Texans with electricity. In order to ensure all the pieces properly stay connected and operating, Texas has a non-profit organization called ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), which is responsible for overseeing the connectivity of this giant electric grid puzzle.

What is ERCOT and What do they do?

A crucial responsibility of ERCOT is to forecast the demand for electricity, along with analyzing the supply of energy resources and assets that are available to provide power to the grid. ERCOT makes predictions by creating forecast models from a variety of data and information sources such as weather forecasts, and historical energy trends. For ERCOT it’s like conducting a weather report for the grid, but with these reports, people can actively monitor conditions and prepare for potential outages. Unexpected events such as power generation resources going offline, or sudden increases in electricity demand, can disrupt the grid puzzle connectivity and therefore, cause potential major issues with the electric utility infrastructure. 

ERCOT Grid Forecast Factors:

  • Historical Data:  Past grid energy usage data assists ERCOT in predicting the demand required during different times. Users of the grid have a meter that collects data on the consumption of electricity. Using this consumption data, grid condition forecasts can be predicted down to the days of the week, and even daily hours. This is how electric utility companies measure peak demand hours and can charge more for the supply being generated and sent to the grid. 
  • Weather Forecasts: Weather plays a significant role in the demand for electricity. ERCOT closely monitors weather forecasts to anticipate grid conditions based on environmental temperatures, and severe weather events.
  • Economic Factors: Economics is a major influence on electricity demand. Factors such as population growth, industrial activity, and holidays can affect electricity usage. These variables are an important consideration when forecasting grid conditions. 
  • Grid Infrastructure: ERCOT works with all of Texas’ multiple electric utility companies and coops which operate in their respective areas within Texas. Together these organizations evaluate the state of the transmission and distribution infrastructure, including the power lines and substations. Electricity. They also consider when to modify or improve the infrastructure of the grid. 
  • Generation Capacity: ERCOT continuously assesses the availability of energy to the grid. Power plants and other energy resource assets will affect how the grid operates. In order to predict an outage, data provided from different power generation sources are used to monitor grid conditions. 

Solar Net Metering Factors and Grid Benefits

ERCOT forecasts grid conditions by also using data provided by net-metered Texans that own grid-tied solar panel systems. Solar energy generation is a critical element of energy supply and demand forecasting. The solar grid resource varies on multiple factors which affect energy availability. Homeowners and commercial properties that export produced excess solar energy during the day will be transmitted throughout the greater Texas grid. The exported solar energy is net-metered and consumed by other grid-connected users. The owners of grid-tied solar arrays are credited on their bill by their electric utility company for their excess solar-produced electricity. The energy supply dynamic between the grid and connected solar systems improves the resiliency of the overall grid infrastructure and provides long-term economic value benefits. Read here to learn how net metering solar buyback works in Texas.

Whole home battery backup systems, such as the Tesla Powerwalls, can also provide excess stored energy to the grid by signing up for the Tesla Electric Plan. Tesla Powerwall owners are credited for providing surplus stored energy from their batteries to the grid when there is higher-than-usual demand. Tesla’s virtual power plant operates using multiple interconnected Powerwall owners to provide energy to the Texas grid during certain conditions. Solar-battery systems are a critical consideration for ERCOT’s forecast of Texas’ grid conditions. 

ERCOT compiles and utilizes all this different information to as best accurately forecast grid conditions. Forecasts are essential for anticipating potential supply and demand imbalances that would affect Texans. These forecasts assist in developing proactive measures that maintain Texas’ grid reliability. Even though ERCOT has all these tools at its disposal, it isn’t perfect and is subject to unexpected circumstances.

ERCOT Taking Action 

The TXANS (Texas Advisory and Notification System) alert system activates when grid conditions become hazardous. The system breaks down into 3 main levels of EEAs (Energy Emergency Alerts). EEA Level 1 is when ERCOT asks Texans to conserve energy to reduce electricity demand from the grid. This assists in ensuring the energy generation supply is continuously viable to get through strained conditions. EEA Level 2, is when the energy supply reserves have lowered but the demand is still consistent even with conservation. At EEA 2 level, ERCOT will deploy other energy assets and resources to alleviate the strain on the grid. Lastly, at EEA level 3, expect controlled grid outages and rolling brownouts. This is to keep the grid from complete breakdown until conditions normalize. 

Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Affects Grid Infrastructure.  

As electric vehicle adoption increases, so does the demand for electricity from the Texas grid. EVs strain the grid in ways that weren’t previously accounted for in terms of energy supply and demand. Throughout the grid’s existence, its sole purpose was for providing electricity to homes and businesses. Now, the same grid infrastructure must provide electricity to charge hundreds of thousands of EVs daily. This puts a higher demand for electricity from the grid and affects conditions that ensure power reliability. Since its creation, the grid infrastructure hasn’t had significant changes that would otherwise ensure its reliability for the foreseeable future.

One way to ensure resiliency and cost-effective transportation is by charging EVs with electricity supplied by solar panels. Driving EVs powered by sunshine is the ultimate way to have energy independence. Homeowners and business owners investing in building micro-grids with solar and batteries as a solution for creating greater grid resiliency achieves Texas’ grid modernization. Solar-battery microgrids provide EVs with the best option for long-term sustainable savings on transportation and energy cost. Installing EV chargers with solar systems for grid-connected consumers allows them to benefit from both net metering and fuel savings.

Grid Resilience & Energy Independence

Although ERCOT does its best to predict and mitigate grid conditions, there are better services and ways to provide a better modern infrastructure. By going with renewable energy systems such as solar paired with batteries, people can be secure with their energy and provide peace of mind to their families. The grid energy puzzle is constantly evolving, especially with the mainstream adoption of EVs and the fluctuation of power generation sources. Sometimes it can be hard for ERCOT to forecast as these types of variables are not consistent. Electric vehicles in particular can be a great strain on the grid as they require a substantial amount of electricity to travel and commute daily. However, with solar paired with batteries for residential and utility use, Texans can be more independent and secure with their energy!

Fact checked by Jacob Petrosky – 4/26/2024