Real-Time Electricity Use Data in Texas? There’s a Kilowapp for That

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas hope that putting information in the palm of consumers’ hands will lead to better power outcomes for the state.

by Nate Strauch, Herald Democrat (TNS) / November 26, 2014

They say knowledge is power, but what about knowledge of power? For officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — the organization which runs most of the state’s electricity grid — the hope is that putting information in the palm of consumers’ hands will lead to better power outcomes for the state.

ERCOT last week rolled-out an update to its mobile phone application that will, for the first time, provide real-time data on Texas’ electricity usage. The app shows the grid conditions in two different ways: The graph screen shows the progression of daily power consumption and supply, both forecasted and realized, while the gauge screen provides an easy-to-understand measure of how taxed the state’s resources are at any given moment.

“We appreciate the growing interest in the electric grid that handles about 90 percent of the electricity used in Texas,” said ERCOT Corporate Communications Director Theresa Gage. “We are pleased to continue improving this mobile app and other communication tools to help keep consumers informed.”

Though the app provides interesting information during the winter months, officials hope that summer is when its capabilities will fully shine. Users can choose to accept “push notifications,” which could be used to alert consumers when the grid is strained.

“When we start to transition into the winter period, what we’ve been observing is similar to a double-humped camel,” said Mark Kadon, who manages Sherman’s new combined cycle natural gas power plant for Panda Power Funds. “We’ll see a peak in the morning, where demand is increasing; it will settle down; and then, as people come home, you see the second hump.

“In the summer, it’s shaped slightly different. In the morning, you ramp up and you’ll basically, from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at night, you’ll have that full peak on a hot day. … I think that’s just the inherent demand in the region, based on the weather conditions.”

ERCOT communications guru Robbie Searcy explained that push notifications could become a useful tool in avoiding brownouts and rolling blackouts when demand is at its highest. Voluntary cut-backs in energy use when temps are soaring would help the state as whole, she said.

“It’s particularly valuable during those times of year when conditions can be tight and there may be a need for additional conservation,” said Searcy. “One of the things we strongly encourage subscribers to do is enable push notifications so that if there is a grid concern — a widespread emergency — our app is one way we can notify consumers directly if action on their part can help prevent outages in their area.

“If we have a situation where demand response is critical in a larger construct, the app could part of the solution.”

The ERCOT app is available for free on iOS and Android devices, and can be downloaded from each company’s respective app store.

©2014 the Herald Democrat (Sherman, Texas)

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