A ‘volatile’ market: How Austin Energy traders buy, sell power

7.5.17

It’s 10:10 a.m. on a sunny morning last week and Lei Ye is staring at charts of energy prices updating every few minutes.
In front of him and several other staff in the same room are banks of half a dozen or more wide-screen computer monitors showing the day’s predicted market and real-time data prices for electricity and natural gas. Looming behind Ye is a large television screen showing live weather conditions across the state that play an important role in each minute’s price of a megawatt-hour of electricity.

It resembles a cross between a trading room floor and NORAD, and here millions of dollars are spent and made per day in attempts to take advantage of the energy market’s fleeting sweet spots as people across the state decide whether to fire up their air conditioning units under a blistering Texas sun.

“It’s comparable to the New York Stock Exchange,” said Austin Energy spokesman Robert Cullick.

But these traders aren’t working for a high-powered investor, they work for Austin Energy. And they aren’t working on a trading floor, they are seated at the utility’s Energy Market Operations center on the second floor of Austin Energy’s office on Barton Springs Road.

They work not to turn a profit for investors, but to help save money for Austin Energy’s customers.

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