UT students tour electric grid control center

UT Austin students studying the rapidly changing world of energy were provided a rare glimpse of the Texas power grid’s central nervous system recently during a tour of the control room and system displays of the Electric Reliability System of Texas (ERCOT).

About 20 students, including members of the McCombs School of Business’ CleanTech Group and the student-run Longhorn Energy Club participated in the tour, along with students enrolled in an Energy Technology and Policy (ETP) class taught by Dr. David Tuttle, a research associate in the university’s Energy Institute.

The ETP class is multidisciplinary course for graduate students in engineering, energy and earth resources, business, economics, and public affairs. It provides an introduction to quantitative concepts in energy, including the differences among fuels and energy technologies, energy policy levers, and the societal ramifications of energy policies and other developments.

The class is a part of the core curriculum of the UT Graduate Portfolio Program in Energy Studies.  

Tuttle said the ERCOT visit provided students an opportunity to learn about the techniques the organization has developed over the past decade to incorporate increasing amounts of wind power on the Texas grid.

“ERCOT has done a remarkable job of integrating record levels of renewable power, especially wind, while at the same time maintaining grid reliability and low electricity prices,” Tuttle noted.

To learn more about how the grid operator is adapting to an evolving resource mix, view a presentation provided by ERCOT Manager in Operations Planning, Sandip Sharma during the tour.

Jayce Walker, a member of the CleanTech Group who participated in the tour, described the visit as “a fantastic opportunity to witness and further understand the complexity and sophistication of the effort that balances peak load with intermittent generation.”

Of particular interest, Walker added, was “the granularity of data tracking and forecasting – much of which was used to fill a 60’ x 20’ control screen.”

“I personally enjoyed learning about ERCOT’s great success in incorporating 22 GW of wind power and how they are prepared for continued renewable energy integration.”

Matthew Hayley, president of Longhorn Energy Club, said the visit was “an engaging experience for our groups to learn about the challenges the system operator faces overseeing wholesale markets and keeping the ‘lights on’ in Texas.”

“The tour featured a lively discussion on how ERCOT uses grid codes, renewable forecasting, and ancillary service and real-time markets to manage the rapid growth of renewable generation on the grid,” Hayley added.

Of particular interest, he noted, was how control room operators helped maintain the reliability of the Texas grid during Hurricane Harvey.

As an independent, non-profit organization, ERCOT is overseen by the state legislature and governed by the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Its members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers and municipally owned electric utilities.

ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to roughly 24 million Texas customers, about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. As the independent system operator for the region, the organization supervises the flow of power from more than 570 generation units over 46,500 miles of transmission lines. The grid operator also performs financial settlement for Texas’ competitive wholesale bulk-power market and oversees the connection of more than seven million households and businesses in areas of the state that permit competition among retail electricity providers.