SMU Energy Curtailments – What are They?

Every SMU student gets the emails: energy curtailment notifications from the SMU Office of Facilities Planning and Management. In August alone, there were seven curtailments. However, while the emails mention adjustments to building thermostat settings, it is not clear what exactly an energy curtailment is or why they are necessary.

The Run-Down

Curtailments are prompted by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, also known as ERCOT. ERCOT is responsible for managing electric power flow throughout the Texas Interconnection power grid, which serves about 26 million Texas homes and businesses. Texas Interconnection only produces a finite amount of power for customer usage (currently around 61,000 megawatts). It is ERCOT’s job to ensure that Texans do not exceed this limit in their collective energy usage. Otherwise, the power grid will shut down. As of now, Texas homes and businesses use around 55,000 megawatts of power.

A Response to the 2021 Snowpocalypse

Following the mass power outages during February 2021’s freak snowstorm, ERCOT devised a plan to ensure that the demand for power does not exceed the Texas Interconnection’s limit, called the Roadmap to Improving Grid Reliability.

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The plan’s main function is to ensure that all Texas homes, businesses, and institutions can operate to the fullest capacity possible. In order to do this, ERCOT sometimes strategically restricts energy in certain areas in order to meet increased energy demands in another area.

SMU’s energy curtailments are prompted by these guidances from ERCOT. IN response SMU Facilities restricts the amount of power used for heating and air conditioning on campus in order to ensure that other areas of Texas can have the necessary power to continue functioning.

Reducing Curtailments

SMU Students and community members can take small, individual actions to reduce their energy use and the need for campus energy curtailments. As addressed in the energy curtailment emails, these steps could be as simple as closing the blinds to block the sun rather than cranking up the AC, turning off lights in empty rooms, or even putting a computer into sleep mode when charging it.

“It’s important that as residents of Texas we are helping keep Texas homes businesses running,” SMU sophomore Ying-Chu Chen said. “If that means taking steps as a university to conserve energy in order to maintain the power grid, that’s what we gotta do.”

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