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Looking toward a changing future, Texas and California diverge on their demand response strategies.

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 753 items added with 371,473 views
  • May 18, 2022

In 2021, Texas took the cake as receiving the greatest failure in confidence from residents after the state proved it was still incapable of looking at the realities of climate change in the face. Sure, the winter storm that ripped through the state broke many records, yet the state’s models of peak demand, and its system for ensuring the lights stay on during such a freeze failed in a very public way. 

California, the U.S. darling of progressive energy policy also proved it had its own issues, with PG&E requiring rolling blackouts in response to a stressed out power grid during an abnormally hot stretch through the summer. 

The two incidents showed a clear need for utilities and grid operators—everywhere, not just in California and Texas—to update their models of peak demand and meet the challenge of a future with more extreme weather events and abnormal temperatures. Texas and California have taken different paths, or, at least, are moving at different speeds. 

This past week, Texas saw six power plants and 2,900 MW of power capacity trip offline during an unseasonal heatwave that forced the state’s air conditioners to crank. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas issued calls for conservation, surely triggering some PTSD for those who remember similar calls from Feb. 2021. This latest failure in meeting excessive demand showed a clear failure in the state’s planning. The grid operator’s spring assessment of energy reliability predicted peak demand at just under 65 GW. After the heatwave, the operator is now predicting a peak demand moving forward of 72 GW, a considerable jump from what was expected. How the grid operator undershot demand to such a degree reflects, for many, the state’s unwillingness to accept the realities of climate change. 

In California, in preparing for a stressed grid during peak demand, Gov. Gavin Newsom has earmarked more than $5 billion for the state to create an emergency reserve of 5 GW that can be deployed at a moment’s notice during times of unusually high demand—typically around 8pm, the same time solar energy production starts to fall off. Although the governor has, surprisingly for some, said the peaked capacity could include diesel and backup natural gas plants, he also said this need could be met by delaying the planning shutdown of some existing power plants. This, of course, brings to mind the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Central California which is scheduled to be shut down a couple years from now. Nuclear energy has received a renaissance of attention as a potential critical component of a firm, clean energy portfolio, and the federal and state government have shown an openness to reneging on Diablo Canyon and other nuclear plant shut downs. 

Anyway it’s spun, the two largest states in the contiguous U.S. are scrambling to plan for increased demand and stressed out grid, sure to be realities as populations grow and weather events get more extreme. 


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