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Technology could help blunt impact of extreme weather: Former ERCOT CEO


Predictive maintenance, batteries could bridge gaps

Improved precision could reduce impact of blackouts

Key technologies could reduce grid impacts during extreme weather events like the cold snap that hit Texas in February, Bill Magness, former president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said at a Sept. 14 event.

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ERCOT lost almost half of its generation capacity during the highest point of the winter storm starting Feb. 15, which led to rolling outages that cut load by as much as 20 GW and left over 4 million customers without electricity. The outages lasted for more than 70 hours, and some customers had to remain offline for days so power supply could continue for essential services.

The weather was so extraordinary during the February event that it is hard to say whether technology could have prevented blackouts, but some technologies could certainly help, Magness said during a media roundtable hosted by Cognite, an industrial software company.

Predictive maintenance

For instance, generators and transmission owners are gathering an increasing amount of data and they can use that information to better predict when maintenance will be needed on their assets, he explained.

Battery storage could not do a whole lot for Texas during the February event because most batteries have a four-hour working cycle and there were a lot more hours that needed to be covered, Magness said. But looking forward, as battery storage duration gets longer, it could bridge the gaps during generation outages, he said.

Blackout management

There is also more work do to on how blackouts are managed, Magness said. For example, if the grid operator needs to shed load, distribution system owners could more precisely time and rotate outages so that people do not get stuck without power for a long time, he said.

Distribution owners have discussed approaches including adopting advanced metering infrastructure so that load shedding can be implemented on a more location-by-location basis, and further segmenting and automating the distribution system so targeted critical facilities can continue to operate during blackouts.

On a broader scope, the housing stock in Texas is not prepared for extremely cold temperatures, Magness said. While it is not new technology, adding insulation and improving energy efficiency in homes could help the region withstand unusually cold weather, he said.