June 29, 2010
New Sand Hill Peaking Units Online in Time for Summer
With summer officially under way, Austin Energy is ramping up for what could be another record-breaking summer for peak electric demand. This month marks the completion of two new quick start peaking units at Sand Hill Energy Center which provide an additional 100 megawatts of generating capacity for Austin Energy. That’s enough electricity sufficient to power almost 75,000 homes.
These units are literally jet engines, just like those used on modern airliners, but modified to turn an electric generator. They operate on natural gas and can be operating at full output in just 10 minutes, compared to other large base-load generating units that can take hours to reach full capacity. The two new units bring the total number of peaking units at Sand Hill to six. Decker Power Plant has another four peaking units.
In June 2009, Austin Energy set a new all time peak electric demand at 2,602 megawatts. Peak is the one hour during the day – usually between 4 and 6 p.m. – when demand for electricity is the highest. Energy usage records were set in June, July, and August – with July and August having 16 consecutive days of triple digit temperatures. A total of 68 triple digit days occurred last summer – one day shy of the all-time record of 69.
Austin Energy has projected a slightly lower peak electric demand this summer, and has sufficient available generation to meet the city’s needs. To date, this year’s peak load has not exceeded 2,320 megawatts. In addition, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) which manages the state’s electric grid projects a generation reserve margin of 21.2% when the summer peak occurs for the state. The 2010 summer peak demand forecast by ERCOT is 64,052 megawatts, compared to last year’s July record of 63,400 megawatts.
Air conditioning accounts for 60%-70% of a customer’s electric bill during the months of June through September. Customers can help manage peak demand by reducing energy use between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m. Tips include turning off lights and electronic equipment; closing blinds and drapes hit by direct sunlight; using large appliances in the morning or at night; using ceiling fans; and setting thermostats a few degrees higher than your norm, when possible.
The Sand Hill Energy Center is Austin Energy’s newest and most efficient gas fired generating station with state-of-the-art pollution controls. The entire plant is capable of producing 580 megawatts. Austin Energy has almost 3,000 megawatts of generating capacity.