Last year's winter storm has made ERCOT a household name. CenterPoint Energy/Facebook

With winter temperatures and last year's freeze still top of mind for many Texans, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, has rolled out new dashboards to help you keep tabs on the energy supply in real-time.

Local may not have heard of ERCOT until the winter storm in February 2021 that would go on to take the lives of 246 people after the freeze overwhelmed the power grid and left millions freezing in the dark.

Since that storm, anxiety has been high. But these dashboards may help Texans get a gauge on what we're dealing with at any given moment.

The ERCOT site features find nine different dashboards on the Grid and Market Conditions page. Each dashboard has a timestamp of when it was last updated and if you select "Full View," you'll get a detailed explanation of what the graphs mean.

If things are normal, the grid will be green. But if it's black, that means we're in an energy emergency level 3, so expect controlled outages. Energy conservation would also be critical.

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Continue reading and watch the full video on our news partner ABC13.

Austin-based Tesla has released new information on its Megapack project, which is being stood up south of Houston in Angleton. Screenshot via YouTube.

Tesla reveals details on massive power storage facility being built south of Houston

texas-sized energy project

Tesla Inc. has taken the wraps off a backup-power storage project in Angleton designed to ease the impact of incidents like February 2021’s near-collapse of the Texas power grid.

The project’s 81 Tesla Megapacks are aimed at providing backup power while reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Tesla says its Megapack batteries store clean energy that can be used anytime.

The Bloomberg news service reported last March that the more than 100-megawatt Angleton project could power about 20,000 homes on a hot summer day. Austin-based Tesla unveiled the 2.5-acre project in a YouTube video posted January 6.

A presentation made to the Angleton City Council by Plus Power LLC indicates the Megapack project is supposed to be part of a larger energy-storage “park.” The park could generate about $1 million in property tax revenue over a 10-year span, the presentation says.

San Francisco-based Plus Power, which has an office in Spring, develops battery-equipped systems for energy storage.

The Megapack project, built by Tesla subsidiary Gambit Energy Storage LLC, is registered with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), according to Bloomberg. The quasi-governmental agency operates about 95 percent of the Texas power grid. ERCOT came under intense criticism after last February’s massive winter storm left millions of Texans without power for several days.

Tesla’s new energy-storage system is adjacent to a Texas-New Mexico Power Co. substation, Bloomberg says.

“Tesla’s energy-storage business on a percentage basis is growing faster than their car business, and it’s only going to accelerate,” Daniel Finn-Foley, head of energy storage at Wood MacKenzie Power and Renewables, told Bloomberg. “They are absolutely respected as a player, and they are competing aggressively on price.”

In November, the Texas Public Utilities Commission approved an application from Tesla subsidiary Tesla Energy Ventures LLC to be a retail provider of electricity in Texas. The power will be sold to residential and business customers throughout the ERCOT grid.

It's only going to get hotter in Houston — can the grid take it? Switching to solar is a way to avoid having to worry about that question, says this expert. Photo courtesy of Freedom Solar

Expert: Solar energy is a necessary solution to summer power grid insecurity in Texas

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You know the old adage: "If you don't like the weather here, wait five minutes." Texas weather is not just unpredictable; it can be downright bipolar. I don't need to remind you of the knockout punch Old Man Winter delivered last February, even to parts of the state where hard freezes are few and a "snow event" usually amounts to a dusting. It will be a long time before Texans forget spending a week without power in single-digit temperatures — huddled together in their homes under mountains of blankets — with no heat, no way to bathe or cook, and no escape.

The massive power outages of Valentine's Day week spurred public outrage and a full-throated demand that state leaders take decisive steps to make Texas' electric grid sustainable. The legislature was only a month into its 140-day regular session at the time, but still failed to do anything substantial to fix the grid before adjourning May 31.

Now — well ahead of the hottest days of summer — Texans are wondering why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is already asking them to set their thermostats at 78 degrees, turn off lights, avoid using their ovens or doing laundry in the evenings, and otherwise conserve energy. It was ERCOT's second such call since April. Some local energy companies have recommended setting thermostats even higher, and local rolling blackouts have continued in Dallas, Houston, and elsewhere in the state throughout the months of June and July. That may be fine for some people during Texas' scorching summer heat, but for others, it is untenable. For the elderly or infirmed, it could be deadly.

Experts have warned the grid is unreliable, the system is strained, and homeowners and businesses hover at near-constant risk for blackouts, unless the state does more to weatherize the grid, bring more generators back online, and provide more emergency backup power. Meanwhile, when temperatures hit triple digits and stay there for days, the blackout risks will skyrocket.

But there is one obvious solution to grid instability that will enable Texans to keep their homes and businesses comfortably cool during the hot summer months ahead, without setting their thermostats higher or timing their activities to government guidelines. Widespread distributed generation of solar energy, instead of the current emphasis on remotely located utility-scale solar, would provide a highly effective, long-term solution to decreasing strain on the ERCOT power grid.

That means dramatically increasing the number of solar installations on residential and commercial properties statewide. Consider the distance and infrastructure required to bring power from a West Texas solar farm to the state's big cities. That's not only a costly undertaking, it exposes the system to many vulnerabilities along the way. It makes more sense to install solar panels on-site, behind the meter, and pair them with storage for backup power.

The logic is simple: Increasing the number of homes and businesses with on-site solar power would decrease the burden on the grid and help insulate it against failure. Further, by installing home batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall for backup power, residents can control their own power supply and ensure its reliability, even during extreme weather events—summer or winter.

These technologies are cost-efficient and readily available today. A few months ago, Congress extended the 26 percent federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) — which also applies to batteries paired with solar — through 2021 (dropping to 22 percent in 2022), making the move to solar and backup power even more sensible.

State leaders have tried to lay the blame for last winter's power outages on renewable energy. But failures of natural gas power plants, not renewable generators, caused the grid failures that led to those deadly blackouts.

On July 6, months after declaring "everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas," Governor Abbott ordered the PUC to take steps to overhaul the state's electric system. But the solutions he's offering—like constructing new coal, gas, and nuclear power plants and building their transmission lines faster—are giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and will take a long time to complete. Texas needs reliable power NOW.

Meanwhile, state officials are increasingly emphasizing conserving power during extreme temperatures, which suggests they don't even believe their assurances that no more blackouts lie ahead. On-site solar power is the obvious solution, both today and for the long-term health of our rapidly growing state and rapidly warming planet.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Austin-based Freedom Solar, the leading turnkey solar energy installer in Texas, providing high-quality, cost-effective, reliable solar solutions for the residential and commercial markets.

Texans have been rightfully wary of the grid. Photo by Getty Images

ERCOT announces plan to improve Texas power grid reliability

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently demanded aggressive action from state utility regulators to shore up the power grid.

Now, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is revealing its plan to address improvements.

On Tuesday, July 13, ERCOT released a 60-item roadmap it said will be updated regularly through the end of the year. The council says it includes both existing and new initiatives.

Here are a few of the items, according to ERCOT:

  • Taking a more aggressive approach by bringing more generation online sooner if it's needed to balance supply and demand. The grid operator is also purchasing more reserve power, especially on days when the weather forecast is uncertain.
  • Requiring CEO certifications. After a rule change, all market participants who own or operate generation resources and/or transmission/distribution power lines will be required to submit a letter signed by their CEO twice a year certifying their companies have completed their weatherization preparations to protect the electric grid for the summer and winter seasons.
  • Adding new requirements for generation owners. ERCOT is proposing a new market rule that requires generators to provide operational updates more frequently.
  • Assessing on-site fuel supplies. ERCOT is reviewing the need for on-site fuel supplies for some generators.
  • Performing unannounced testing of generation resources. ERCOT says this testing helps verify that generators have provided accurate information about their availability.
  • Addressing transmission constraints in Rio Grande Valley. ERCOT and the PUC (Public Utility Commission) are initiating a process to address RGV transmission limitations and provide increased market access for resources in the Valley. ERCOT says this will improve reliability for customers during normal conditions and high-risk weather events.


ERCOT and grid woes continue to be top of mind for Texans. At least 220 generators were offline the week of June 14 when council officials called for Texans to conserve power.

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Continue reading on our news partner ABC13.

A new report from the University of Houston zooms in on Uri's damage by the numbers. Photo via CenterPoint Energy/Facebook

Report: Nearly 70 percent of Texans lost power during Winter Storm Uri, new UH report says

Uri by the numbers

Texans are painfully aware of the bitter loss caused by Winter Storm Uri; many are still coping with the after effects of the storm that set in on February 13.

But now, new figures reveal how ravaging the freeze was to the Lone Star State and its beleaguered residents.

At its peak, Uri left close to 4.5 million homes and businesses without power, killed more than 100 people, and caused an estimated $295 billion in damage. The storm is the single biggest insurance claim event in state history, as CultureMap previously reported.

More than two out of three Texans – some 69 percent – lost electricity at some point during the storm, for an average of 42 hours. Meanwhile, almost half – 49 percent – lost access to running water for an average of more than two days.

Additionally, nearly one-third of residents reported water damage in their home.

These numbers come from a just-released report by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. According to UH, the Hobby School conducted the online survey of Texas residents 18 and older who live in the 213 counties served by the Texas Electrical Grid, which is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

The full Hobby School report is available here.

Highlighting the frustrations millions have expressed since the storm has passed, nearly three out of four Texans – 74 percent – say they disapprove of ERCOT's performance during the winter storm — with 65 percent strongly disapproving. Some 78 percent of respondents claim they do not believe that the power outages in their area were carried out in an equitable manner.

Just how many Texans were okay with the council? Only 6 percent say they approve of ERCOT's widely criticized handling of the storm, per the survey. In the aftermath of the storm, seven ERCOT board members resigned following the near total failure of the state's power grid.

More than three-quarters of residents surveyed support policy reforms, which include requiring electricity generators to weatherize and boost their reserve capacity and natural gas companies to weatherize in order to be able to participate in the Texas market.

However, a majority of respondents oppose proposals that would require consumers to pay an additional fee in order to fund electricity generator weatherization efforts and to increase the amount of reserve electricity generation capacity, per the study.

The Hobby data produced other notable findings, including:

  • Some 61 percent of Texans prepared for the storm by buying additional food, 58 percent bought bottled water, and 55 percent filled their vehicle with gas. The next most common preparations were insulating pipes, covering or moving plants, and storing tap water.
  • A large number — 75 percent — reported difficulty obtaining food or groceries, 71 percent lost internet service, and 63 percent had difficulty obtaining bottled water.
  • When they lost electrical power and heat, 18 percent left their home, with 44 percent going to a local relative's home.
  • Of those who remained in their home without power, 26 percent used their gas oven or cooktop as a source of heat, 8 percent used a grill or smoker indoors, and 5 percent used an outdoor propane heater indoors.
  • Nearly half of Texans disapprove of Gov. Greg Abbott's performance during the winter storm, compared to 28 percent who approve.
  • More than half relied either a great deal, somewhat, or a little on three information sources before, during and after the storm hit: 68 percent on local TV news; 63 percent on neighbors and friends; and 55 percent on The Weather Channel.

The survey was fielded by YouGov from March 9 through March 19, with 1,500 YouGov respondents, resulting in a confidence interval of +/-2.5. Respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, ethnicity/race, and education, and are "representative of the adult population in these 213 Texas counties," per UH.

"Winter Storm Uri was a catastrophic weather event that impacted millions of lives across our state," said Kirk P. Watson, founding dean of the Hobby School, in a statement. "By digging deeper into its impact on Texans, we are learning critical information that will help inform future plans so a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

What winter storm Uri ultimately demonstrated was the multitude of technology solutions that needs to scale up to provide us with the best energy reliability and availability. Photo by Lynn in Midtown via CultureMap

Houston expert: Winter storm Uri's devastation should be a reminder to prioritize innovative energy solutions

guest column

Texas has landed itself in the middle of a fierce debate following what's been considered one of the worst winter storm in recent history for the state.

Uri wreaked havoc as it rolled through regions that were wholly unprepared for the sudden temperature drops, single digit wind chills, and unusual precipitation (e.g. thundersnow in Galveston). Rolling power outages and water shortages affected more than 4.5 million Texans. Businesses like grocery stores and restaurants — unable to wash food or sanitize equipment or even turn on the lights, —closed throughout the ordeal, leaving many families without food, water, or power.

For most, this was an unprecedented experience. The majority of catastrophes in Texas are in the form of warm weather events like floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes, which means that even if power is lost, freezing is rarely an issue. Uri turned this upside down. ERCOT's failure to provide reliable energy for days on end led to families sleeping in devastatingly cold temperatures, further water shortage due to municipal water facilities failing, carbon monoxide deaths, disruption in vaccine rollouts, hospitals overrun with people needing to charge essential medical equipment, and much more. Uri highlighted in harrowing detail the domino effect that energy (and lack thereof) has on everything around it.

A single source of ERCOT's failure is hard to pinpoint. The cold led to production shut-ins, exacerbating the existing natural gas supply shortage and resulted in the RRC prioritizing "direct-to-consumer" natural gas delivery (i.e. to residences, hospitals, schools, etc.) over natural gas for the grid. Iced-over gas lines disrupted this flow even further. Freezing temperatures shut off some wind turbines and solar panels (if they were not already covered in snow). Coal and nuclear plants in Texas also shut down due to frozen instruments and equipment.

Thrown into sharp relief was the importance of consumer access to natural gas and other fossil fuels like propane. Most homes that had completely electrified (including my own) were ill-prepared to heat their homes without access to the grid or backup generators. Residential and community solar did little to alleviate this problem in many cases as lower technology configurations either froze, were not able to capture enough energy from a low-light environment, or were covered in snow. Having access to gas for heating or a propane stove was a lifeline for most folks.

But it's oversimplifying to say that the only solution to preventing another situation like this is continued or increased reliance on the oil and gas industry.

What last week ultimately demonstrated was the multitude of technology solutions that needs to scale up to provide us with the best energy reliability and availability.

It wasn't enough for our grid to have five potential generation sources – they all failed in different ways. But what if we incorporated more geothermal, which is more cold-weather resistant? What if we upgraded our solar panels to all have trackers or heating elements to prevent snow accumulation? What if our grid had access to larger scale energy storage? What if consumers had more access to off-grid distributed energy systems like generators, residential solar, geothermal pumps, or even just really large home batteries? What if we had predictive solutions that were able to detect when the non-winterized equipment would fail, days before they did? What if we could generate power from fossil fuels without dangerous emissions like carbon monoxide?

All of these technologies and more are being created and developed in our energy innovation ecosystem today, and many in Houston. What we're building towards is diversity of our energy system — but not just diversity of source — which is often the focus – but diversity of energy transportation, energy delivery, and energy consumption. Energy choice is about being able to, as a consumer, have a variety of options available to you such that in extenuating circumstances like winter storms or other catastrophes, there is no need to depend on any single configuration.

In a state like Texas, which is not only the largest oil and gas producer but also the largest wind energy producer and soon to be home to the largest solar project in the US, innovation should and will happen across all energy types and systems. Uri can teach us about the importance of the word all and how critical it is to encourage startups and technology development to develop stronger energy choice. Texas is the perfect home for all of this — and our state's rather embarrassing failure around Uri should be exactly the kind of reminder we need to keep encouraging this paradigm.

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Deeana Zhang is the director of energy technology at Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

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Experts: How to better prepare Houston to combat climate related challenges

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Houston is no stranger to hurricanes, and in recent years winter storms have become an increasing concern. Following the winter freeze in 2021, more than 4 million Texans were left without power, water, or heat. The state’s infrastructure system was adversely impacted concurrently — including workplaces, hospitals, transportation, homes, drinking water distribution, electric power generation, agriculture, and grocery stores. Now, a new potential disaster is on the horizon. Recent research shows Houston is most likely to be affected by wildfires, a climate-related challenge that our city has not previously faced.

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s 2022 U.S. Climate Action Survey, since 2019, only 18 percent of Americans believe their communities are built to withstand climate change. The good news is Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing climate change is urgent. The question many are asking is — “How can we take action to better prepare buildings and cities to weather the climate challenge?” The solution is simple. In order to understand where we need to go, we must understand how we got here.

With a population that has more than doubled in the past 50 years, it is challenging for most Houstonians to imagine a time when The Bayou City was nothing more than agricultural lands and oil fields. Today, Houston is known for being the fourth-most populous city in the United States. It is a sprawling concrete jungle home to the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. When reflecting on the past 50 years, one can’t help but evaluate the city’s successes and shortcomings. While Houston has succeeded in becoming a diverse, international city, we have sacrificed the very ecology that once made up one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas. By 1980, Houston possessed the least amount of green space per person in the country.

As new developments popped up across the city, it became difficult to convince developers to pursue third-party certifications such as LEED, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that provides the framework for designing healthy, efficient, carbon saving buildings. We can credit Hines with being one of the few developers in Houston to prioritize green design during the early-2000s. City leaders also began advocating for resilient strategies and more green space to attract and retain international talent and businesses. In recent years, we have seen an increase in buildings that are achieving LEED certification, and soon it will become the baseline.

The Houston Advanced Research Center, Photography by Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

An example of a project leading the way for resilient design is The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). In 2017 the organization completed work on its LEED Platinum Certified headquarters which was designed to meet the ENERGY STAR certification rate of 99 (out of 100). This means that the building is more efficient than 99 percent of all office buildings in the United States. Skanska is another construction and development company bringing a sustainable mindset to downtown Houston with its work on Bank of America Tower. In 2019, the 775,000 square foot building became the largest LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the world to date and was developed with harvesting technology that will significantly reduce energy usage.

It’s also important to understand the impact that the climate crisis is having on people. 91 percent of U.S. Gen Z/Millennials have been affected by extreme weather events since 2019, the most of any generation. These experiences have resulted in two generations preparing to react and combat climate change and has encouraged a spirit of transparency among companies who choose to share their environmental goals and strategies.

For architects and designers, addressing building and energy codes is proving to be the next big design consideration. As codes progress in the coming years, the result will be more unique and unexpected building designs.

When reimagining the use of buildings, Architects Paulina Abella and Tayler Trojcak propose an experimental process for repurposing vacant buildings called High Hackers. The concept provides an opportunity for developers to offer prime downtown real estate to people with diverse skill sets, whom they call “hackers,” to pursue projects shaped by their individual ideas. These hackers—makers, artists, and academics—will work alongside one another in spaces that encourage them to coexist with creatives from other fields and disciplines. More importantly, it fosters a collaborative, organic, and innovative workflow.

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, we encourage prioritizing marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Promoting awareness and optimism in our communities is another simple yet effective way to make a difference. For businesses, creating a sense of continuity in the face of climate events, investing in energy and resource efficiency and adaptation, and addressing insurability and the long-term value of real estate will ultimately help lead Houston and its community members toward a place of preparedness and resiliency.

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Rives Taylor directs Gensler’s Global Design Resilience teams and initiatives and has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Maria Perez is a design resilience leader for Gensler’s South Central region and director of sustainable design based in Gensler’s Houston office.

Houston 3D printing company selected inaugural competition

winner, winner

A Houston company has been announced among the winners of an inaugural seed fund expo competition.

Twelve startups were announced across four categories in the U.S. Small Business Administration's inaugural America’s Seed Fund Startup Expo 2022, which is taking place virtually Wednesday, May 25, from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Each of the 12 companies have developed innovative technologies with the help of SBIR grants.

“Every day, in communities across America, entrepreneurs are solving our nation’s most pressing challenges from climate change to feeding and healing the world. The SBA is committed to helping ensure that those ideas receive the necessary support from federal programs and innovation ecosystems so that they can commercialize and grow into resilient businesses,” says Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a news release.

“With the launch of America's Seed Fund Expo, we will showcase exceptional entrepreneurs who have leveraged federal research and development funding through the SBIR Program in key industries and connect them to resources to advance their game-changing innovations right here in America,” she continues.

Houston-based Re:3D is among the companies selected to present at the expo. The complete list of participating companies is as follows:

  • AgTech and Food Security
    • General Probiotics (Saint Paul, MN)
    • Nucleic Sensing Systems (Saint Paul, MN)
    • Shellfish Solutions d/b/a Blue Trace (Castine, ME)
  • Climate and Energy
    • Amorphic Tech (Allentown, PA)
    • FGC Plasma Solutions (Middleton, MA)
    • Hydroplane (Lancaster, CA)
  • National Security and Defense
    • BadVR (Pacoima, CA)
    • Enduralock (Lenexa, KS)
    • PSYONIC (Champaign, IL)
  • Supply Chain Resiliency
    • Chromatic 3D Materials (Golden Valley, MN)
    • Delta Development Team (Tucson, AZ)
    • Re:3D (Houston, TX)

“The giants of future industries so often start as small business startups with big ideas," says Bailey DeVries, associate administrator of the office of investment and innovation, in the news release. "We know the public and private sectors must work together to nurture these small businesses with big ideas over many years so they may sustain and grow. America’s Seed Fund Startup Expo will lift up big ideas and provide a platform for our national innovation community to support the businesses of tomorrow."

The event is free to attend virtually, and anyone can register online at https://bit.ly/SeedFundExpoRSVP. The America’s Seed Fund is among the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs and is collaborates with 11 federal agencies, that collectively support more than $4 billion a year in federal research and development funding.

Rice University students raise funds to invest in the energy transition

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A group of Rice University students have added a new extracurricular to their transcript.

Launched last fall, Rice New Energy Fund, or RNEF, is the country's first student-managed energy transition investment fund, according to a news release from Rice. The fund's goal is to generate returns for scholarships while advancing decarbonization technology and providing education and diversity in investment.

“We needed more funds and a more focused strategy to be competitive,” Shikhar Verma , class of ’24 and founder of the fund, says in the release. “Everyone in Houston is talking about the energy transition, but not many people know what that actually entails. We want students to learn how to be responsible financiers and lead this transition.”

To join, students are required to participate in the Rice Undergraduate Finance Club’s training program and undergraduate investment fund, since the RNEF operates as a part of the club. Anyone can join the program, no matter their major.

“Our team’s diverse academic background allows us to explore investments more holistically,” Verma says. “For instance, we have engineers who can evaluate technologies and scaling risk and pre-law students to appraise the regulatory and policy environment.”

Verma says he and his fellow team members have tapped into a group of mentors, advisers and donors for the fund, including former Rice Board of Trustees chair Bobby Tudor as well as renowned executives Steve Pattyn and Stephen Trauber, per the release.

The RNEF has raised $200,000 in donations, and plans to start investing in the fall with a hope to create a portfolio of 200 new energy-related companies.

“We needed more funds and a more focused strategy to be competitive,” Verma said. “Everyone in Houston is talking about the energy transition, but not many people know what that actually entails. We want students to learn how to be responsible financiers and lead this transition.”