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Bulbing demand, electric shortage

Larger Texas population uses more energy, sources changing

Published: Monday, July 30, 2012

Updated: Monday, July 30, 2012 23:07



Electric generation lags behind population growth in Texas, which might cause an electric deficit by 2022.


The population of people living in Texas from 2000 to 2011 increased by almost five million people, from 20.9 million to 25.7 million. From 2000 to 2010, the total energy supply increased from 378 billion kilowatt hours to 412 kilowatt hours (blue line); however, electricity utility generation decreased from 297 billion kilowatt hours to 95 kilowatt hours (red line). The bulk of the difference was met by “IndepeIndependent Power Producers."

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Texas’ population is on the rise and so is the potential for energy shortages.

Due to population growth, high temperatures and increasing energy demands, the electric use in Texas is growing faster than the electric generation being built to service. This leads to a decrease in the electric reserves, the gap between the energy supply and demand during the peak hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is the electricity grid operator for the state and forecasts the reserves to be 14.3 percent in the summer of 2013, 9.8 percent in 2014, and drop below zero in 2022.

“Our goal is to prevent outages,” media communications specialist for the Council Robbie Searcy said. “ERCOT is very focused on grid reliability and we’re working very closely with public utility commissions on solutions to these future resource adequacy concerns.”

The Council’s electric grid covers 75 percent of Texas and accounts for 85 percent of the electricity usage in the state. It serves most of the major metropolitan regions with the exception of El Paso. Areas not covered include part of the panhandle and some of the southeastern regions of the state.


Despite triple-digit temperatures and the potential to reach peak energy demand periods, the Council doesn’t anticipate fading outages this summer.

“ERCOT has several steps we take when generation reserves become tight to help ensure the reliability of the grid,” Searcy said. “Those steps include bringing all available generation online, we then would take some of the larger users offline. Those users have agreed prior through contracts with ERCOT to go offline during those times when there is a problem.”

During the peak demand hours Texas residents are advised to do some simple tasks to use less electricity. Since air conditioning is one of the biggest challenges to the Texas grid in the summer, residents are encouraged to turn thermostats up a few degrees and avoid using large appliances such as washing machines and dryers.

The Texas Public Utility Commission is also taking steps to avoid future energy shortages.

It recently voted to raise the wholesale price cap for electricity. This price cap is hit on hot summer days and will be allowed to rise by 50 percent.

The idea behind this decision is to allow power plants to make more money on electric generation so they could build more plants to supply the growing population in Texas.

The decision to raise wholesale prices could affect the residents of College Station.

“We try to get power contracts that cover our load but during peak situations when it gets really, really hot, almost all utilities may have to buy off the market,” said Timothy Crabb, College Station’s interim director of electric utilities. “If they raise that price, that could raise the price of the utilities, which could ultimately raise the cost to the customer.”

Most College Station residents pay 12 cents for a kilowatt hour.

College Station purchases electricity from the the Council that has generation stations throughout Texas. There are no power plants in College Station, but that could change in the future. “College Station’s power supply contract, part of that runs out in early 2015 and we’re investigating all sorts of things,” Crabb said.

College Station uses more than one energy source to provide electricity to Texas residents. Crabb said it is important to diversify energy sources due to the unpredictable nature of resources availability.

You don’t want everything to be based off one fuel source because a change in the market can drastically affect cost,” he said. “Right now natural gas is [priced] low, at one time it was high priced.”

The U.S. has issued renewable fuel standards, according to Sergio Capareda, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering.

Capareda said renewable resources such as algae and high-tonnage sorghum can generate electricity.

“I have a portable mobile fluidized bed gasifier that can gasify air,” Capareda said. “We turn the solid biomass into gas, and that gas is injected into an internal combustion engine, and that engine runs from the gas that’s attached to a generator — so it’s generating power.”

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