Texans are prepping for winter weather, and Bitcoin miners are being enlisted to the call.
According to a new seasonal report from the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, 1.7 gigawatts (GW) of ‘Large Flexible Loads’ (LFLs) have been onboarded to the Texas grid. Mostly Bitcoin mines or data centers, LFLs are one chess piece in the hands of Texas grid operators to keep the lights on during times of high demand.
Indeed, LFLs have the unusual ability among high demand energy users to shut off at a moment’s notice in order to divert energy to other grid participants.
As detailed in the report published November 29, ERCOT expects a forecasted peak demand of 67.4 GW with 87.3 GW of winter resource capacity–about a 37% margin. The two most dynamic loads included in the forecast include the above-mentioned LFLs and 947 MW of battery storage, a relatively new addition to the Texas grid.
The question everyone is asking is if there's enough resources to defend against strong winter storms. No one wants a repetition of February 2021’s Winter Storm Uri which cost 276 US lives as several power sources suffered winterization and transmission failures.
Since then, Bitcoin miners have positioned themselves as a possible solution to the Texas’ grid issue. Miners can help “defend the grid” by both bringing additional generation capacity to ERCOT and curtailing demand during times of high grid stress. For example, Bitcoin miners released 1,000 MW in July 2022 as Texans flipped the AC units in mass.
In reality, Bitcoin miners flip off when the economics make sense. As ERCOT details, a breakeven cost of $86/MWh is asserted as a generalized breakeven cost for when a miner will choose to keep mining, or divert power back to the Texas grid. Units keep hashing if it's profitable to do so. This inconvenient fact has been a thorn in the industry’s flexible load marketing to date, though luckily it's sure to be a non-issue as long as Bitcoin prices languish.
Bitcoin miners or not, there may not be generation sources at the moment to stave off unforeseen challenges, ERCOTs report also shares. ERCOT says an additional 9-12 GW are still needed to meet an “extreme event."
Moreover, there seems to be large disagreement on if newly proposed market structures for ERCOT will work in the Lone Star State. Lawmakers, energy providers and public utility members are currently debating the values of various designs for ERCOT’s open energy market ahead of proposed changes. Check out this Twitter thread from Stoic Energy President Doug Lewin for more information.