Texas enters peak season for power and emissions: Maguire by Reuters

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By Gavin Maguire

LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) -The four-month period from May through August marks the peak for energy generation and demand in the state of Texas, the largest U.S. user of fossil fuels for power generation and the largest energy sector emitter in the country. country.

A major driver of power demand in Texas is an annual increase in air conditioner use by homes and businesses during the hottest time of year, when average temperatures can rise above 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity.

To meet rising demand, power producers in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) system must often increase generation by more than 30% above production levels during the first four months of the year.

Such high production levels – which must be maintained 24 hours a day to avoid system strain and potential outages – often require energy companies to deploy large amounts of coal and ensure sufficient availability of baseload power.

Utilities also try to deploy maximum amounts of energy from renewable sources during the summer peak, but often face a dip in wind farm production during that period, which can worsen power shortages and increase system load.

In 2024, ERCOT solar production levels are expected to reach new records thanks to new and expanded solar farms, but coal and gas use could also reach new highs if both overall demand and wind farm production follow their usual seasonal trends.

BOOT UP

Total power generation from the ERCOT system through the first four months of 2024 was 5.57 million megawatt hours (MWh), the highest in at least three years for that time slot and nearly 7% above the 2023 total for that period, according to LSEG.

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A nearly 50% increase in solar power generation compared to the first four months of 2023 was a major contributor to growth in overall ERCOT production.

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But a nearly 5% decline in ERCOT nuclear power plant output and a decline in both wind and hydropower sources have led power companies to deploy the highest combined amount of coal- and gas-fired power since at least 2021 in the first four months of 2024 , according to LSEG data. shows.

Total generation from coal and natural gas plants amounted to 2.88 million MWh through April 2024, 11% more than during the first four months of 2023.

This means that even before peak generation season, ERCOT utilities have already deployed the highest volume of fossil fuel generation in more than three years.

PEAK PERIOD

ERCOT power generation totals during the middle four months of the calendar year averaged 35% more than during the first four months of 2021 to 2023, LSEG data shows.

In 2023, the total electricity production from May to August was 40% more than the total electricity production from January to April.

If power demand increases to a similar extent between May and August 2024, generation should reach 7.8 million MWh in that period.

That total would be 6% more than between May and August 2023, and may require generators to crank up production from both coal and gas plants, especially at night when solar production stops.

In 2023, total production from ERCOT gas and coal plants was 4.8 million MWh from May through August, the highest level since at least 2021.

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According to energy think tank Ember, total energy sector emissions during the period amounted to 71.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, which was 20 million tons or 40% more than during the first four months of 2023.

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If ERCOT utilities had to fully meet the 6% increase in demand from coal and gas plants from May to August 2024, that would amount to 5.13 million MWh from fossil fuels and could result in nearly 75 million tons of related emissions.

Consistently above-normal wind speeds during the summer could help power companies reduce some of the use of coal and gas-fired power plants, and could lead to lower overall emissions.

But if wind power generation trends follow their normal pattern, energy companies may have no choice but to ramp up coal and gas production, which will also increase emissions.

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