Perplexing Problem of Electricity Outages, Brownouts, and Blackouts

What a Nuclear Power Plant Looks Like From Several Thousand Feet

So why don’t the electric utilities simply put more power on the grid so as to prevent the shortage of electricity in the first place?

For the average electric service consumer this is a common and reasonable question to ask but really you should be asking a different question.

The question should be, “Why isn’t there more power “Available” to put on the grid than there is currently in order to prevent a blackout?”

Try and think of electricity like water going through a pipeline. Just as you can only force so much water down a pipeline at one time so is the case for electricity. In the pipeline there is more than enough water to meet the demand and you simply turn on the faucet and take what you need.

Try to think of the flow of electricity through the electric grid as you would think of the flow of water through pipe lines. At a set voltage (pressure) it’s impossible to make any more electrical current (volume) go down the line than is possible to flow through the end appliances (valves).

Electric power travels down the grid in a similar manner as in your water line, we take what we need from the power that is made available on the line at a certain voltage.

Back at the power plants only once more electricity is being demanded can the power be generated and more made available on the power lines. If a few power plants go down or a hot summer days estimates are off it could be too late to turn on another power plant in time.

Nuclear plants are very expensive and hard to shut down and start up so when less energy is demanded the first power plants to turn off are hydro and gas plants.

If there is a hot summer day in Texas the following day the gas plants get turned back on again to meet peak demand during that day. The trick the grid operators have to achieve is in creating just the exact amount of electricity as is demanded during the day and sending it down the power lines.

When demand estimates are off and businesses and residences are in danger of having a power outage Texas works a program that involves businesses who have prior agreed to turning off their facility during peak times in the day to keep the flow of power going in order to prevent a brownout or blackout.

Often these facilities have backup generators that create electricity while they remain off the grid and so their facility still runs with the electricity they create on site.

The electricity demand curtailment programs available in Texas are listed below.

Load Resource Participation: Customer load curtailment offers can be bid into a number of different ancillary services markets. Participation requirements and compensation depend upon the particular market, and all programs require that customers have real-time telemetry installed. For the Responsive Reserve and Non-Spinning Reserve markets, capacity payments are made regardless of whether the customer is called upon to curtail. click here for more info on LRP

Voluntary Load Response: Participants get compensated for curtailing electricity load at their will, in response to the actual or projected hourly MCPE. click here for more info on the VLR program

Emergency Interruptible Load Service (EILS): Participants bid to provide electric load reductions. The program is for helping in emergencies rather than simply high price conditions on the ERCOT grid. click here for more info on EILS

If you would like to participate in one or more of these demand curtailment programs with the state of Texas our group of energy consultants can assist with all the details. Please use our contact page to let us know if you would be interested in this unique way to receive money in exchange for turning your power off for a short interval and running on generator power.

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