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Rolling Brown Outs? Not Cool. At All.

As the temperature on the thermometer began climbing higher today, word started circulating that rolling brown outs were possible because the area was already maxing out on its system load whatsits, according to ERCOT. While I have already discussed my love of things like this, this, and this, I found something new to click and refresh on today: ERCOT’s fancy load graph, and Oncor’s maps that show current outages.

So listen, seriously. It’s hot. Really hot. Hot enough that having no electricity for an hour or so could make even the coolest house pretty gosh-darned toasty. So unless you want to just sit naked in a room, arms and legs akimbo, drinking lemonade and dousing yourself with what was ice water two minutes ago, ERCOT recommends the following*:

  1. Suck it up. You won’t die if your thermostat is set at 78 while you’re home. You might have to have a cool drink by your side, and you might need to sit around in your underwear or something, but you won’t die. You will just get to sit in your underwear drinking Maker’s Mark on the rocks.
  2. Turn some stuff off. Seriously. If you’re not in the room, does the light need to be on? No. No it does not. Unless you’re one of those sissies who is afraid of the dark. And since the worst of the load issues happens during the broad daylight, I shall call shenanigans if you do indeed say you are afraid of the dark. Also, jack up your thermostat to 85 when you’re not in the house. Who are you cooling during the day? The cat? Well, let me tell you, that cat won’t return the favor. The cat doesn’t care. The cat will just lick himself in really bad, inappropriate places and laugh at your discomfort. So you know, screw the cat.  Are you going to whine now about how it’ll be hot when you get home? Because they make these programmable thermostats now, and you can set it to come back on and start cooling before you get home. Technology is awesome.
  3. If you’re not going to do any of those things, for heaven’s sake don’t brag about it. Because someone, somewhere, who is friends with a friend of yours on Facebook, is sitting in a hot house in the dark, and he or she wants to punch you in the throat.

* Edited slightly.

30 comments on “Rolling Brown Outs? Not Cool. At All.

  1. Even with my kids we found ways to turn off everything sans the A/C and save yesterday … better a little dark than people losing power.

  2. Guess what? Unless your house is insulated like a Thermos bottle, there is a difference between your thermostat setting and the temperature in the room where you sit naked, arms and legs akimbo, licking yourself in really bad, inappropriate places and laughing.

    What’s the difference in your house? In mine right now, because we’re sitting in this Texas-sized hot air mass, it’s around 12 degrees, so Satan can just reach right in and give old Frosty a squeeze in the inappropriate, dripping places anytime he wants to.

    When your thermostat is set to 78, fellow FBvian, what’s the real temp in your house?

  3. Lots of homes in HP and UP lost power yesterday around 5 pm. Came back on around midnight for us. Downstairs was relatively comfortable; upstairs was not.

  4. Frosty is correct. Thermostats only control the temperature where they are located. In my house like most, the thermostat is located in a central hallway beneath the return air grille. If I set the thermostat for 78-degrees, the hallway will be maintained at 78-80 (since I have an old-style thermostat with a 2-degree reset span). Meanwhile the living room will be 82-84 when the afternoon sun is hitting the windows.

    On a slightly different topic, I had to laugh when Oncor was encouraging customers to order their ‘free smart thermostats’. These devices would allow Oncor to raise your thermostat setting or shut-off your A/C remotely. While they say that no one would notice if they raised the thermostat setting by 4-6 degrees on a hot day, they are assuming that it was originally set for 72 degrees. If you are already at 78-80 degrees like me, I think I would notice.

  5. Randy, they typically will announce the thermostat changes, but they also tell you they will “super cool” your house an hour or two before they do so – taking the temperature down to about 72 before shutting it off for an hour. That being said, the company that controls the thermostat for the electricity provider is typically not in Texas, and there’s always this fun guessing game as to whether they mean Pacific, Central or Eastern.

  6. Huge-office-building-management-people: if people are bringing sweaters to work it would be OK to jack up the thermostat by 5-7 degrees at least. I have a space heater under my desk because it is so freaking cold inside.

  7. Meanwhile people in my office have space heaters and blankets on because of how cold it is in here. How about office buildings making it warmer? I bet that’d be a huge help.

  8. A small price to pay for not giving into the socialist tyranny of lower-wattage light bulbs.

  9. Can we pass this information on to any public enclosed space? Including shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, etc? Because I could actually wear a sweater when going to any of the above mentioned places.

  10. Bethany, I would rather not have anyone remotely turning the thermostat down to 72 for an hour or two before turning it up or shutting it off. It also doesn’t make much sense to force a bunch of equipment to operate at full blast (drawing even more power) before reducing consumption, only to have to go full blast again to catch-up. I’m an engineer with 30 years experience in the commercial A/C industry, and I will never allow the power company to control my house.

  11. Nothing wrong with low wattage light bulbs, saves money LOL!
    Woud you prefer to fork over 150 bucks just to stay cool, lets not be spoiled! 150 bucks just for the electric bill gimme a break haha

  12. Dear ERCOT/ONCOR, we followed your recommendations at our house. We didn’t run the high-energy consuming devices. We cooked dinner with gas. We turned the AC up to 78. We turned most of the lights except one and played card games with the kids.

    But more than 6 blackouts (I lost count) is not cool. 10-15 minutes on, followed by 30-40 minutes off from 6pm to 11pm.

    And no way, other than a D Magazine blog posting, to vent your customer disgust? No one to call, except some automated hotline (“please have your ESI number handy”)? No contact with the customer?!? Hey, numbnuts, you’ve got my email address on the account. Email me. Text me. Tell us what’s going on. Technology can be a wonderful thing.

  13. Becca no doubt those places mentioned are definite energy hogs! They guzzle energy like they don’t care!

  14. Dear Anon at 1046,

    You are a butthead.

    There were no rolling blackouts last night in any part of the state. Perhaps you forgot to pay your power bill again. Or maybe one of the kids was just jacking with you because you cheat at cards.

    In any event, ERCOT doesn’t have customers…they manage the grid. Use the Interweb you’re so fond of and look it up.

  15. Right now I am enjoying (but not in a schadenfreude, “please punch me in the throat” way) the serendipitous decision to purchase our house in the same electric grid as a DPD substation and water utilities station, as the location means we don’t suffer brownouts.

  16. I LOVED your article!!! So true and made me chuckle more than once! Thank you for the lighthearted opinion – needed it today!

  17. Since i’m slightly OCD, i’ve actually checked the temps around my house to see how they compare to the temp where the thermostat is and i was surprised that the temps were the same. My house is 60+ years old and not well insulated so the problem i have is actually getting it down to 78, i’m sure in newer houses 72-75 is achievable, but in mine, once July rolls around, the thermostat is set at 85 during the day and 78 at night (82 day 78 night on weekends) and even then my poor old A/C struggles.

  18. Doug, that’s surprising that the temperatures are equal. Normally the center of the house where a thermostat is going to be better insulated than a room with windows and exterior walls. Perhaps you have alot of heat from the attic coming in through poorly insulated ceilings.

    I understand what you’re saying about getting the temperature down. My 1920′s cottage with only 1200 sqft is also very poorly insulated. It is very difficult to maintain an interior temperature that’s much more than 25 degrees lower than the outdoor temperature. So when it’s 105 or higher outside, my A/C unit runs constantly to maintain 80 degrees.

  19. Hey you guys! I have a 1938 cottage and can easily keep it cool (70 degrees if i wanted to run it too much) keeping the stat at 75. Also it does cut off and rests frequently even at the hottest times of the day. My secret is very simple, ample tree canopy coverage on the south and west sides of my house.

    One thing I’ve noticed with the newer homes (mcmansions) in my neighbor, is the location of the condenser units. More often than not, the builders have located them in the south and/or west sides of the house. Those houses will never cool. Not even with multiple condensers. As long as they are located in full sun, cooling will be virtually impossible and very expensive. Same goes for businesses who have condensers on the roof. And if that roof is metal, then you can expect only a tiny degree of difference between the outside and inside.

  20. Patsy Ann, it’s very true that condensers should be located in a shady spot for improved cooling. Mine is located on the northest side that is shaded by a fence and the neighbor’s house. And my southwest facing living room has gotten more confortable since the frontyard tress have grown and added more shade.

    The proper sizing of an A/C system can get tricky. Ideally it should have enough capacity to cool your house on the hottest day of the year. Unfortunately, the larger a unit is, the less efficiently it will operate on every other day of the year. In addition, if a unit is oversized such that it cools the house too quickly, it will run less frequently but do a poor job of dehumidification. So sometimes it’s better to have a unit sized such that it may struggle with record temperatures like 105-110, but performs perfectly during normal high temperatures like 95-100.

  21. I do know that some people had what they may have thought were rolling blackouts, but were actually outages caused by an overload in that particular area. Parts of the Park Cities were without power yesterday evening, for instance.

  22. I always keep my thermostat at 79 and flip the ceiling fan on. My friends call me an electricty Nazi (and maybe they’re right, but my electric bill never gets over $150 in the summer).

    I personally don’t understand why that’s even considered hot…imagine if it were 79 degrees outside right now with a nice breeze going. That’s a nice day. You might even open up the windows.

  23. Same here, Becky. As a matter of course, our thermostat is set to 78 during the day, and 82 at night, and we use our ceiling fans. It’s actually fairly pleasant, especially if you keep the shades and curtains drawn.

    We do average billing, which also means, yes, our electric bill is higher than most everyone else’s in the winter. But you know, $70 or so a month is much easier to budget for than a surprise $300 electric bill in the summer.

  24. My Highland Park (state of Texas) office lost power on 8/2 right at 5:00pm. There was definitely a grid overload. So, Sam Luchow, don’t be a “butt head” unless you know everyone in this state.

  25. Probably would make a big difference if restaurants and movies theaters do their part by turning up their thermostats a little. Went to a restaurant today and it was cold enough to make you want to have a jacket. And this was around 3 pm, around the time of day that the demand/use grid peaks.