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What Do All of ERCOT's Energy Conservation Alerts Mean?

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has a new notification system for energy conditions in the state. It's already led to energy savings at critical moments.

Daniel I. Dorfman Contributor
Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelance reporter and writer who covers local government in the Chicago area. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer and others. In his spare time, he is a big sports fan and likes to ride his bicycle.
Daniel I. Dorfman
4 min read
A transmission station behind an field of dry crops.

During a heatwave, reducing energy consumption can help the grid.

Bloomberg/Getty Images

A common part of modern life is getting an alert on changing weather conditions. If you live in Texas, that same technology provides updates on statewide energy conditions.

Last year, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas introduced the Texas Advisory and Notification System, or TXANS, marking an advance in quick communications for the organization. ERCOT is an independent service operator that manages power on the grid connecting more than 54,000 miles of transmission lines to over 26 million customers in the Lone Star State.

ERCOT officials say TXANS provides early notifications and enhanced transparency on the grid's operation, increasing awareness of overall grid conditions amid rising customer demand in a state with a growing population.

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"TXANS will deliver clear and reliable notifications ahead of significant weather conditions where high demand on the grid is possible," ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas said in a statement about the launch of TXANS in May last year. "Keeping Texans informed earlier adds a new level of awareness on grid conditions and any public action that may be needed."

What do energy conservation requests from ERCOT mean?

The TXANS system came online at an opportune time, as Texas experienced its second hottest summer on record in 2023. Last year ERCOT announced 10 new all-time peak demand records, including an all-time peak demand record of 85,508 megawatts on Aug. 10. Individual daily peak demand records were also set on six days that September.

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There are three ways to receive TXANS notifications, which are available in English or Spanish. You can sign up for email alerts, follow ERCOT on social media, including LinkedIn, Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, or download the ERCOT app onto your mobile device.

There are six possible notifications you might receive: weather watch, voluntary conservation notice, conservation appeal and three levels of emergency alerts.

Since its start, six weather watches, three voluntary conservation notices and 10 conservation appeals have been issued, ERCOT spokeswoman Trudi Webster said.

Weather Watch

ERCOT issues a Weather Watch three to five days in advance of "significant weather" such as extreme heat with the potential to increase electrical demand. 

If you receive a Weather Watch notice, no immediate actions are necessary as conditions are stable. However, you should check the grid conditions via ERCOT for updates.

Voluntary Conservation Notice

This alert asks Texans to voluntarily decrease energy usage during peak demand periods, if it's safe to do so. The goal is to decrease demand while ERCOT works internally to manage the grid as higher demand is forecast with a lower energy supply.

Actions might include bumping up your thermostat on a hot day, trying not to use large appliances such as a washer or dryer, turning off all nonessential lights and appliances and, if you have a pool at home, using the pumps only in nonpeak hours. If you own or operate a business, you can turn off lights, appliances or air conditioning when the business is closed.

Conservation Appeal

ERCOT issues Conservation Appeals to ask residents, businesses, schools and governments to decrease electricity use if it's safe to do so.

This elevated request comes when higher demand and lower reserves are predicted and could require emergency operations.

Energy Emergency Alerts

If the overall situation becomes more extreme, ERCOT has three levels of energy emergency alerts.

When it issues an emergency alert, ERCOT can use additional power sources that may be available only during emergency conditions with the overall goal of keeping the grid functioning. 

As alerts get more urgent, there's an increased potential for rotating outages. If you have critical medical needs that can only be met with electricity, speak with your utility, or create your own backup plan. 

You can conserve energy on your own by adjusting your thermostat, turning off extra lights or not using large appliances such as your washing machine or dishwasher.

Energy Emergency Alert Level 1

This alert goes out when ERCOT's operating reserves fall below 2,500MW and are expected to remain below that level for 30 minutes at least.

At this level, there has not been a request for controlled outages, but that could happen if reserves continue to decrease and are forecast to fall below 1,500MW for at least 30 minutes.

Energy Emergency Alert Level 2

The second level of energy emergency alerts means reserves have slipped below 2,000MW and predicted to remain below that level for 30 minutes, or the frequency has fallen below 59.91Hz for 15 minutes. Controlled outages are not necessarily coming, but they are possible.

Energy Emergency Alert Level 3

The highest level of alerts indicates reserves are now below 1,500MW and are projected to stay at that level for 30 minutes, or the frequency is under 59.8Hz for a period of time.

A Level 3 alert instructs ERCOT operators to cut power on the grid via controlled outages during a set date and time range. This will affect industrial, commercial and residential customers.

What impact do ERCOT's alerts have on the grid?

ERCOT has an online dashboard displaying supply and demand in real-time energy usage.

Webster said when ERCOT asked for conservation measures via TXANS it has seen as many as 500MW of demand come off the grid. 

"It definitely does make an impact to support greater reliability," she said.

How should you respond to ERCOT's alerts?

What actions you need to take if you do get an alert depends on the notification that comes down. A forecast of extreme weather conditions several days in advance simply requires monitoring the situation, while the three levels of emergency alerts may require a reduction in power usage.

However, no matter the type of alert, you should keep up to date on the situation.

"We are asking Texans to stay updated and to follow the conditions on our supply and demand dashboard," Webster said. "The beauty of TXANS is that we are really transparent and frequent in our communications to keep Texans updated with the information we have."