On Wednesday—as on Tuesday, Monday, Sunday, Saturday, Friday, Thursday, and the Wednesday before it—the Electric Reliability Council of Texas urged Texans to conserve power. ERCOT, as it’s known when uttering curses, warned that demand could outstrip supply and requested that you—yes, you, the person reading this, three months into the most interminable Texas summer in living memory—should do your part by raising your thermostat a few degrees, forgoing the load of laundry in your dryer, and would it kill you to turn off a few lights?
Were our leaders sweating it out alongside us? Who knows. Texans did not see, say, a TikTok video of workers at the ERCOT offices or the Governor’s Mansion cheerfully doing their part by turning the thermostats in those buildings to a balmy 80 degrees. Nope! As with many recent events in the state’s history, individual Texans were left on their own to take personal responsibility for the continued functioning of the power grid that—in case you’ve forgotten—was declared “fixed” during the 2021 legislative session.
The good news: The grid is still functioning, and enough Texans appear to have complied with the request from ERCOT to avoid statewide rolling blackouts. The bad news: This all sucks! It is exhausting to spend several hours every evening sweltering in our own homes, with the collective trauma of the lethal blackouts 2021’s Winter Storm Uri still fresh in our minds, feeling like fools for heeding the call to save power while empty office spaces are kept cold and lit up. If you’ve been feeling this, too, you may be suffering from ERCOT Conservation Fatigue.
What is ERCOT Conservation Fatigue? That’s a fine question, since we just made it up. Accordingly, the condition doesn’t appear in any medical literature, and it’s unrecognized by the DSM-5 as a psychological condition. Just because doctors don’t know about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. And if the now daily text messages from ERCOT or emails from your local electricity provider to turn off the dang lights has worn you down amidst this endless summer, worry not: Texas Monthly has some advice for how to manage the condition.
Incorporate and Reap Those Sweet Incentives, Baby
Not every business leaves the lights on and the A/C blasting while us suckers sweat it out at home. In fact, many business owners are keen to reduce their electricity usage at ERCOT’s request—not necessarily out of a sense of communal responsibility, but because the state offers cash to the ones that do.
Business customers can enroll in a “demand response” program in which they agree to shed a certain amount of power when called on to do so. In exchange, they get a check paid out based on the wattage they stopped using. Sounds like a good deal! Such a good deal, in fact, that energy experts such as the University of Texas’s Michael Webber have proposed similar programs for individual customers who turn off their lights when they get the ERCOT notices.
For now, if you’d like to be rewarded for doing your part to keep the grid up, consider incorporating and signing up with a partner company to participate in ERCOT’s demand response program. Don’t have any killer business ideas? That’s fine—just become a Bitcoin miner. So long as you’re wasting huge amounts of electricity during normal times—Texas Bitcoin miners use an estimated 2,200 megawatts of power, about 20 percent of the total usage globally—you can get paid to conserve during peak demand. Suddenly, while the rubes are acting out of the goodness of their hearts, you can start cashing checks.
Imagine That Every Time You Push the “Up” Button on Your Thermostat, You’re Releasing Spiders Into the ERCOT Offices
When it’s hotter than Hades outside and you’re sweating in your own living room, the last thing you want to do is turn up the thermostat by yet another degree. You know what helps reduce the psychic burden of shouldering that responsibility yourself, though? Imagining that the thermostat doesn’t just control the temperature in your home, but that whenever you push the “up” button, it also releases that many clusters of spiders into the offices of ERCOT—and in the Governor’s Mansion, in the Texas Capitol, and in every other center of power occupied by those who’ve left us in a position where our electrical grid teeters. Setting your thermostat to 80 degrees when it’s 105 outside is depressing—releasing eighty clusters of spiders in Greg Abbott’s bedroom, on the other hand, is downright satisfying. The human imagination is a powerful thing.
Call ERCOT and Ask Them if They’ll Consider Tapping the UPDOG Energy Reserves
Take it from Bart Simpson: sometimes, when you’re feeling powerless (literally and metaphorically), a prank phone call will cheer you up. When the person who answers the phone says, “what’s UPDOG?” you say, “just sitting here at home sweating, dog, what’s up with you?” and then you laugh till you cry.
Go Out and Build Some Transmission Lines Your Own Dang Self
This summer, our buckling power grid has one saving grace: When it’s approximately 1 million degrees outside, it’s also a pretty safe bet that the sun is shining. Once again, solar power is bailing us out. Solar’s great when it’s sunny—solar panels are increasingly cheap to install, and it doesn’t cost anything to turn it on or extract.
The catch, though, is that getting that energy to customers requires transmission lines, and those lines are increasingly congested. Without more transmission capacity, we’re generating more solar power than we can use during the summer, which isn’t great when the same sun generating all those free electrons is also the reason everyone is cranking the A/C. If you want a long-term cure to ERCOT Conversation Fatigue, the answer seems clear: We’re gonna need more juice.