The Texas electricity grid has kept running this summer through an unrelenting heatwave, but it’s largely thanks to families and businesses curtailing their electricity usage, and no thanks to the unusual and inexplicable amount of gas and coal power plant outages, the Houston Chronicle reports. For the eighth time in just two weeks on Wednesday, ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, asked Texans to voluntarily curtail their electricity use with more than 9,000 megawatts of coal- and gas-fired power plants unexpectedly offline.
“How does that much (power) generation basically break at the exact same time? I can speak generally as to why thermal plants might break… but I don’t think that explains what we’ve seen the last 48 hours,” Doug Lewin of Stoic Energy Consulting told the Chronicle.
The potential shortfalls in power supply typically come in the early evening as the day’s heat remains (keeping air conditioners running) after the sun goes down. Joshua Rhodes, a research scientist with the UT Austin Energy Institute, blamed the fossil fuel plants’ unreliability on their age and the fact they were not designed to handle the constant demand driven by the extreme heat they helped exacerbate.
“It’s like if you were to get in your car and drive at 100 miles an hour in 120 degree heat for a month straight. You would probably have some issues with your engine, because it’s not really designed to do that,” Rhodes said. “Plus, if that car is also a 1969 Chevelle, it’s not going to do as well.” (ERCOT: Houston Chronicle; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)