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ERCOT warned of rolling blackouts. What are they and how would they work?

ERCOT is asking Texans to conserve energy Monday at the risk of the need for rolling blackouts, but what exactly are they?

TEXAS, USA — As the sun chars the state of Texas on its daily revolution around the world, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) warned there may be rolling blackouts caused by the extreme heat.

Due to the threat, ERCOT asked residents to conserve energy from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday.

But what are rolling blackouts anyway?

Rolling blackouts are temporary power outages, a tool used by grid operators to manage the grid when demand becomes so high it puts the entire grid at risk of collapse.

This means cutting power in one part of the state to allow for the rest of the state to keep its own. After one city or region may have their power cut for a few hours, the power company will shift where the power has been limited to another city or region—hence the term “rolling.”

Rolling blackouts can protect from the entire state losing power by rationing the available energy supply. Many Texans already saw rolling blackouts during the winter storm in February 2021, when ERCOT ordered them in efforts to manage the severe strain on the power grid caused by the severe cold. But the energy strain can come from the heat or the cold alike.

Not everywhere loses power though in rolling blackouts. Emergency services still need power to operate, so hospitals will always maintain power.

How long the rolling blackouts last depends on the severity of the supply shortage and how high demand is. Sometimes it can last for just a couple hours—sometimes it’s longer.

Suggestions for preparing for blackouts include stocking up essentials like food, water and medicine, and keeping flashlights and candles handy to keep the house lit at night. It’s also recommended to keep appliances unplugged during a blackout to prevent a potential power surge when power does come back.

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