Sorting Out What Happened in Texas

Following energy has given me a lot of anxiety over the stability of the grid, especially in winter. I’ve had my phones beep out warnings to turn the heat down during polar vortexes. But when I heard Texas might be vulnerable to an upcoming cold spell I was a scoffer. I was even overly flippant about this serious situation. Then I started to run across all these pictures of iced over wind turbines and power lines. I always figured it was inevitable that some state, region or country was going to be hit hard by some winter storm and have a grid failure because of wind and solar. I just couldn’t imagine it would be Texas. Texas does have the most wind turbines of any state. It gets around 20% or so of its electricity from wind. A lot of sparsely populated states get a higher percentage, but Texas is surely the leader among populous states. They had a special buildout of their grid into rural areas where they could take advantage of wind. Being a southern state, they have a rather small percentage of solar.

I’ve been following what the renewable advocates have to say on blogs and Twitter and I’ve found a few surprises. I started hearing claims that the outages were not caused by wind but by coal, gas and even nuclear plants. I’m certainly not going to take this at face value, but I don’t want to completely dismiss it. A good example is someone who I really find obnoxious on climate, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:

Investigating further I found that power plants are having trouble with stuff like instruments freezing up. Gas used for heating lowers the pressure in gas lines and leaves less for generating electricity. Now gas in a pipeline obviously doesn’t freeze up, but gas plants do have things like water pipes and gages that can. Rod Adams chronicles how one of the reactors in Texas tripped off:

There was some blaming of deregulation and Texas not being integrated with the rest of the grid and there does appear to be a case to be made. I’m seeing huge amounts of thermal generation on the order of 30 gigawatts being offline. So is all this wind just humming along and saving the day or at least keeping things from being much worse? Well Alex Epstein has been tweeting a graph that’s devastating to their case:

Looking at that bottom graph, the green wind band does not hold up all that well. Of course gas and coal have taken hits and there’s a rectangular hole for the tripped reactor. The actual contributions from wind and solar look relatively tiny for the last few days. The wind band looks rather narrow compared to a few days back. I don’t know if it’s due to less wind, too much wind for the turbines, frozen turbines or downed lines. We’ll see how it all sorts out.

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February 17, 2021 at 06:55PM

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