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Homeowners could save money and help the state’s power grid maintain its integrity during the hottest summer days under a new pilot program offered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
The ERCOT board approved the program last week as a way to reduce electricity demand in the late afternoons during the summer months. The grid operator has warned that electricity could be in tight supply and there’s a significant chance that alerts could be issued.
To participate, residential customers should contact their retail electric provider or Oncor.
Homeowners will be pooled with other customers with the goal of cutting 100 kilowatts of electricity usage during a targeted 30-minute period.
Robbie Searcy, communications manager for ERCOT, explained it would take about 65 to 70 homes raising the thermostat and halting the use of appliances to make up the necessary 100 kilowatts.
Homes make up about 51 percent of ERCOT’s power consumption during peak periods.
“This really opens it up to a different type of consumer,” Searcy said. “We hope to see increased participation in residential consumers.”
Paul Wattles, senior analyst for ERCOT, said in most cases homes need special equipment on the thermostat or air conditioner so they can be controlled remotely. When it’s needed, the electricity demand can be reduced by the entity the homeowner signed up with. Then, the customer is compensated for reducing the load during the peak time.
“Whatever you give us, whenever we call you, we’re going to pay you for that,” Wattles said.
The pilot program is separate from the commercial incentive program where ERCOT pays big industrial users to cut back when the gap between load and demand shrinks. The businesses get paid for reducing their electricity usage during that period. The new pilot program runs from June to September and is weather and load related so it goes into effect when it’s most needed.
To explain the program, she used the following example:
It’s a hot summer morning with high temperatures expected to reach 105 to 115 degrees in the ERCOT service area.
Generators are working at full capacity but ERCOT keeps an eye on the margin between generation and load.
If the gap reaches 2,300 megawatts, an Energy Emergency Alert goes out, asking consumers to voluntarily cut back usage from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Consumers who are participating in the pilot program will be asked to cut back usage mostly by raising the thermostat and not using big appliances.
ERCOT will distribute money to the company that aggregated the consumers in the pilot program, in some cases a retail electric provider.
The company will return those savings to consumers based on how much power they saved.
ERCOT expects to pay out between $34,000 to $86,000.
The staff report for the pilot program shows the potential the program has for the state this summer and in the future.
“If the pilot demonstrates that participating loads can provide meaningful demand response during peak summer conditions at a reasonable price, the potential long-term reliability benefits could be substantial, given the best demand response potential associated with residential loads at summer peak.”

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