The Impact of Neglecting Climate Change and Variability on ERCOT’s Forecasts of Electricity Demand in Texas

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the electric power across most of Texas. They make short-term assessments of electricity demand on the basis of historical weather over the last two decades, thereby ignoring the effects of climate change and the possibility of weather variability outside the recent historical range. In this paper, we develop an empirical method to predict the impact of weather on energy demand. We use that with a large ensemble of climate model runs to construct a probability distribution of power demand on the ERCOT grid for summer and winter 2021. We find that the most severe weather events will use 100% of available power—if anything goes wrong, as it did during the 2021 winter, there will not be sufficient available power. More quantitatively, we estimate a 5% chance that maximum power demand would be within 4.3 and 7.9 GW of ERCOT’s estimate of best-case available resources during summer and winter 2021, respectively, and a 20% chance it would be within 7.1 and 17 GW. The shortage of power on the ERCOT grid is partially hidden by the fact that ERCOTs seasonal assessments, which are based entirely on historical weather, are too low. Prior to the 2021 winter blackout, ERCOT forecast an extreme peak load of 67 GW. In reality, we estimate hourly peak demand was 82 GW, 22% above ERCOT’s most extreme forecast and about equal to the best-case available power. Given the high stakes, ERCOT should develop probabilistic estimates using modern scientific tools to predict the range of power demand more accurately.