How Does Turning Up My Air Conditioner Help the Texas Energy Grid?

Let’s say it’s one of those scorching Texas summer afternoons where the humidity is so thick you practically swim through the air. After a long day, all you want to do when you get home from work is set the air conditioner to “Point Barrow in January” and chill out.

But now you heard that Direct Energy launched a Peak Demand Event. Not only are we asking for conservation, we want you to raise the temperature on your AC from the comfy 72°F to something stifling and miserable. What’s up with that? How does turning up your air conditioner help the Texas energy grid?

The Texas Energy Grid & Summer Heat

The problem with hot Texas summers is that it’s so danged hot. Everyone wants to stay cool so electrical demands shoots up as fast as the temperature. For example, this summer, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) prepared for 68,000 MW of peak demand and maintains a generation reserve of 15%, bringing its total generating capacity up to 77,000 MW. It’s a lot of electricity — until 7.5 million Texans use it at the same time.

When you run LOTS of electricity through electrical power equipment, it heats up due to electrical resistance. The more heat, the more resistance – which causes even more heat. The effect sort of…er, snowballs.

Hot, sunny days only worsen the problem. Power transformers, like the ones outside your home attached to poles or housed in olive-green boxes on the ground, also heat up for the same reason. Transformer coils are sealed and kept bathed in an oil coolant. For the most part, these beasts are pretty tough and shut down before anything bad happens. But excessive heating can cause them to fail suddenly under high electrical loads. Sometimes, they explode.

How Does Turning Up My Air Conditioner Help the Texas Energy Grid?

But It’s Hot Outside!

Let’s say you set your AC at 72°F. Because of the heat, your system is running frequently, and you’re using a lot of electricity: about 3,500 watts/hour for a 3-ton central air unit. But let’s also say five of your neighbors are doing the same thing on your block. That’s even more electricity zipping through the grid, overloading the old distribution transformer at the end of the block. Then, a sixth neighbor joins in. And another. And then just one more…

Boom. No more transformer. No AC.

When demand exceeds supply (which can happen if a power line fails or a power plant suddenly shuts down), excessive line noise will damage switching and monitoring equipment, making it more difficult to bring on additional generators. To balance the system and keep it stable at this point, ERCOT will begin shedding load through rolling blackouts. That means everyone will take some heat.

Simply put, this is not just about one person. It’s not just about your air conditioner. It’s about everyone sharing the load to reduce the grid’s load. Reducing your use benefits everyone. Raise the temperature of your air conditioner up to 78°F for just four hours a day (we recommend 3pm to 7pm). You’ll save energy, you’ll save money off your bill, you’ll help your neighbors, and you’ll keep cool by helping to save the Texas grid.

Think of it as Texans helping Texans.

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