Demand Response: Bringing Stability to the Texas Electric Grid
If you’ve ever been to Dallas during the summer, you already know that it gets hot. When temperatures climb, Dallas-area residents (understandably) crank up their air conditioners. But A/Cs use a lot of energy, and a sharp uptick in energy use can strain the regional power grid—increasing the risk of brownouts, blackouts, and other service disruptions.
To avoid such situations, the wholesale electric grid in Texas (ERCOT) has implemented a program called Demand Response to alleviate electrical grid congestion during times of peak consumption. When ERCOT determines that the grid is nearing brownout or blackout conditions, Demand Response encourages commercial customers to reduce electricity use, helping the grid remain stable. By participating in this program, Southwest is helping reduce the number of peak load generation plants that have to be built.
Demand Response and Southwest
Southwest began to participate in Demand Response at our Dallas campus in 2017. When ERCOT calls a Demand Response event, we activate a sophisticated network of automated controls which temporarily shift HVAC settings across approximately 2.4 million-square-feet of our headquarters to ease our burden on the grid. In the event that we need more power, our Demand Response system also includes EPA-compliant back-up generators. We can’t permanently reduce power to HVAC units—at some point, our work environment would become uncomfortable for our Employees. But Demand Response allows us to reduce energy use long enough to help ERCOT get through periods of peak demand.
ERCOT’s Demand Response program requires customers to pass an annual performance test to remain compliant. Prior to 2019, we passed each annual test but were never called upon for Demand Response. Then during the week of Aug. 12th, 2019, the wholesale electric grid in Texas set an all-time record for system-wide demand. ERCOT called two emergency demand response events during the week—the first time a Demand Response event had been called since 2014. We answered ERCOT’s call by initiating our Demand Response protocol. During the event, our energy savings systems reduced Southwest’s demand on the grid by approximately 1.2 MW—or the amount of energy needed to power 150 homes with air conditioners running at full blast. Together with several other companies that participated in the Demand Response event, we were able to help the Texas grid make it through a period of unprecedented electrical demand.
Connected to Purpose
The Demand Response program has served us well. Since 2017, Southwest has received more than $115,000 in program participation payments that have been used to increase energy efficiency and Employee comfort at our headquarters campus.
And we see a real connection between Demand Response and carrying out our Purpose, as these programs directly benefit the People and communities we serve. Programs like Demand Response help us keep costs down, which allows us to keep our fares low and offer benefits like bags flying free.8787) Southwest Airlines is the only major U.S. airline that offers to all ticketed Customers, up to two checked bags that fly free. Size and weight limits apply. Demand Response allows us to positively impact our community by enhancing the stability of the local power grid. And by helping our operations stay up and running—even when others need to consume larger amounts of energy than normal—Demand Response lets us continue to serve our Customers without interruption.