You’ve heard all the hyperbole making comparisons to Sunday night’s cold weather around the country–“colder than on Mars,” “arctic-like,” and “frigid.” It’s all hypothetical hyper-hypothermics, until your lights go out from the cold.
Houston dodged a bit of a bullet this morning when the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas issued a Stage-2 Warning against the possibility of rolling blackouts because of near-excessive demand for power. The alert was quickly rescinded as demand tapered, but it could happen again tonight as temps drop even further than on Sunday.
“Some of the records that we’ve seen, going back in 1970, are going to be potentially-tested,” says Texas Energy Analyst, Alan Lammey. Houston’s record low for January that year was 19-degrees. He thinks we could beat that tonight.
It’s not a death-knell, or anything, however.
Lammey says even with rolling blackouts, the situation can be manageable if everyone plays along. “If everybody will kind of pitch-in and conserve a little bit, then what that does is–if there is a rolling black-out type of situation occurring, it shortens that length of time,” says Lammey. “Rather than having a 30- or 45-minute long potentially rolling-blackout, if everybody kind of pitches in, it may be only ten minutes.” And that’s the time of potentiality for a blackout–not that it will occur, unless too many people are trying to use too much power.
Rolling blackouts–in which power providers temporarily redistribute supply to adjust to excess demand–are nothing new in Houston, Summer or Winter. But if it seems they’ve been a bit more frequent in recent years, that’s because there are more of us plugged in to the electricity grid in Texas. “We’ve seen a lot of influx of larger residences that have been built, major expansion throughout our state,” Lammey says. “In order to be able to meet all of this demand when extreme weather begins to occur, it does begin to put a little bit of strain on our systems.”
And so Lammey is predicting more rolling blackout warnings, perhaps this evening or in the morning. “You may see those same alerts kind of spring back up again,” Lammey says.
ERCOT says the best way to avoid that is to lower the thermostat, turn off unnecessary electrical equipment, and reschedule heavy electricity usage for later–when things warm up. Which should be about Wednesday, according to weather prognosticators.