Image: Weather Service International
This picture shows the temperature (in Fahrenheit) departure from normal during this recent cold snap.
Late Sunday night, extraordinarily cold temperatures made their way into Texas. As the temperature dropped, the people of Texas switched on the heat, with much of it being electric, in an effort to stay warm. Unfortunately, people weren't the only ones to feel the cold grip of mother nature. Extremely low temperatures, ice, and snow caused power plants to go offline. As the demand for power rapidly shot up, supply drastically fell.
The spot price of wholesale electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000% on Monday amid a deep freeze across the state and rolling power outages among power producers, according to data on the grid operator’s website.
Real-time wholesale market prices on the power grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour, according to ERCOT data. - Reuters
This has been the perfect storm to expose the shortcomings of the energy grid in Texas.
What is ERCOT?
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers -- representing about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. As the independent system operator for the region, ERCOT schedules power on an electric grid that connects more than 46,500 miles of transmission lines and 680+ generation units.” (http://www.ercot.com/about)
There are three electric grids in the United States. One grid covers the Eastern and Central United States, one grid covers the Western United States, and one grid (ERCOT) is responsible for Texas. ERCOT is on its own in order to avoid federal regulation, but that also means they cannot export excess energy in times of surplus, or import energy in times of need.
Why did Power Plants Fail?
The main reason the power plants in Texas failed is due to the frigid temperatures the Lone Star State is experiencing. But electric grids in colder parts of the U.S. and the world deal with these cold temperatures regularly and do not go offline. ERCOT is prepared for extreme heat, but not extreme cold. Why spend the money to weatherize for extreme cold if your area never experiences these temperatures? The answer is: Climate Change.
Climate Change is more than just our planet warming and sea levels rising. Climate change will cause severe storms and rare weather events to occur. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. This cold weather in Texas highlights this issue perfectly.
Is this a Renewable Energy Problem?
Some people were quick to blame frozen wind turbines for lack of power. While Texas is a wind powerhouse, only 7% of their winter capacity was set to come from wind turbines. “It’s estimated that of the grid’s total winter capacity, about 80% of it, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power. Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.” (texastribune)
Wind turbines may have failed, but natural gas, coal, and nuclear also failed, in a more striking fashion.
No matter what side of the aisle you fall on, it is clear to see that this is a disaster. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.
Follow all of our channels to get real time updates and coverage on the Texas ERCOT energy crisis.
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