Improve the ERCOT Grid With a Microgrid Solution

September 29, 2021

Last February, Winter storm Uri revealed to the nation the complexity of issues surrounding the grid that paralyzed our State. The Freeze didn’t create the problems, rather it exposed the weaknesses of an aging system that has not evolved with the times.  The extremely low temperatures exposed every component in the grid that was not winterized, causing failures throughout the system from upstream gas production, down to the consumer markets. We have experienced numerous warnings and failures since last February, in fact this summer ERCOT had over 1,000 outages. If there is anything we can take away from this experience, is that Texas Reliability cannot be taken for granted, the problems are real and are not going away anytime soon.

The grid must overcome fundamental challenges before it can become more reliable. Texas is growing rapidly with demand increasing, weather volatility intensifying, and the influx of intermittent wind and solar replacing coal-fired plants with no stable power to back it up. As a result of the February freeze, Senate Bill 3 was passed requiring new Emergency Preparedness plans for water and wastewater facilities that qualify for ‘critical load’ status. The installation of auxiliary generators was mandated for all counties as backup power for these critical facilities and compliance measures have been instituted. The burden of ‘Reliability’ no longer resides solely with the grid but has effectively been placed on the others as well. Power reliability for critical loads is not just a good idea, it’s mandatory! At the end of the day, it’s not about compliance and checking a box, it’s about helping to address the underlying problem and deploying new solutions.

Unfortunately, the Texas grid will continue to be challenged as Washington sets out to ‘decarbonize’ the power industry by 2035. The changing resource mix is creating the greatest challenge for grid reliability for the foreseeable future, especially as the ‘electrification of everything’ steadily grows. Taking all of this into consideration, it is imperative that we be proactive to secure our own resilience and contribute to the solution through demand and frequency response programs.

With all these issues at work, grid operators are finding it increasingly difficult to keep the grid balanced, resulting in more frequent rolling blackouts and grid disruptions. Keep in mind, there are only two tools an operator can use to balance the grid, which are 1) taking load off the grid (demand response) and/or 2) adding power to the grid (frequency response). Demand and frequency response programs are becoming an increasingly valuable option for grid operators as they navigate grid resiliency improvements to keep up with increasing demands.

Behind-the-meter Microgrids are also on the rise, as on-site power systems, interconnected with the grid, have the ability to be remotely monitored and controlled. These systems can ‘island’ or remove the plant load from the grid, supply power to the plant, and export the balance of unused power back to the grid. Today’s Microgrid can provide commercial, industrial, and government consumers with affordable power while providing grid operators with the tools for demand curtailment and/or frequency support when called upon.

If you’re a government entity or C&I customer, your load is a valuable commodity to grid operators because of your ability to either take the load off the grid and/or add power to the grid upon request, which in turn helps them reduce load demand during peak pricing and demand periods. On-site Microgrids can also provide load-management functions that can either generate revenue and/or save significantly on energy-related expenses paid by the utilities.

As Texas state regulators continue the journey of improving our grid reliability, it is likely these programs will continue to become increasingly valuable for the consumer and ERCOT alike. Remember, a microgrid solution can provide you with the ability to leverage your load value, secure reliability and show returns on investment over time. In essence, you can get paid to secure your own resiliency while supporting the greater good of our grid.