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How Texas’ Power Generation Failed During the Storm In Charts

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A huge winter storm slammed Texas earlier this week, knocking out power plants and leaving millions of residents without electricity and heat for days, amid freezing conditions.

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A major part of the problem: The state’s power plants were not prepared for the frigid temperatures that accompanied the storm. Natural gas, coal and nuclear plants — which provide the bulk of Texas’ power in the winter — were knocked offline, and wind turbines froze, too.


Texas’ Power Generation Took a Hit During the Storm. Natural Gas Was Hit Hardest.





Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

The state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit.

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.


By The New York Times·Source: U.S. Energy Information System Hourly Electric Grid Monitor

Conservative politicians and pundits were quick to blame wind farms and renewable energy more broadly for the power outages. But natural gas — which is a crucial power source when electricity usage peaks — was hit hardest.

“All sources underperformed expectations,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston. “But far, far more than everything else combined were the shortfalls from natural gas.”

During the blackouts, the grid lost roughly five times as much power from natural gas as it did from wind. Natural gas production froze, and so did the pipelines that transport the gas. Once power plants went offline, they were not prepared to restart in the below-freezing conditions.

Demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses also spiked, contributing to shortages. And high gas prices further disrupted generation, as operators who could not turn a profit took their plants offline.

Several coal plants and one of Texas’ four nuclear facilities were also knocked offline by cold temperatures.

The usually-balmy state does not require power plants to be winterized — “as we’ve painfully come to find out,” said Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute.

Just as generation was dropping from the grid, demand for electricity in Texas hit a record high for winter, rivaling demand seen during some of the hottest summer days. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the majority of the state’s power grid, reported that demand peaked at 69,000 megawatts on Sunday, surpassing its planned worst-case scenario.

Shortly after, the grid operator instructed utilities to begin controlled power outages to avoid longer-term damage.


How Power Generation Compared to Worst-Case Plans





This was ERCOT’s worst-case plan for peak demand and extreme outages.

Natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydroelectric power

On the evening of Feb. 14, power generation briefly surpassed ERCOT’s worst-case estimate.

But power generation dipped much lower from Feb. 14 through 17.

This was ERCOT’s worst-case plan for peak demand and extreme outages.

Natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydro

On the evening of Feb. 14, power generation briefly surpassed ERCOT’s worst-case estimate.

But power generation dipped much lower from Feb. 14 through 17.


By The New York Times·Source: U.S. Energy Information System Hourly Electric Grid Monitor; Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy for the ERCOT Region, Winter 2020-21 | Note: This graphic accounts for ERCOT’s thermal, wind and solar generation. It does not include auxiliary and backup power supplies used during peak demand.

In its seasonal risk assessment, ERCOT anticipated that “extreme” winter demand could spike as high as 67,000 megawatts statewide if conditions matched the 2011 ice storm that led to blackouts in parts of the state. Researchers estimate that had the grid been able to deliver it, power needed for heating would have pushed demand around 5,000 megawatts higher earlier this week.

Governor Greg Abbott blamed the blackouts on solar and wind energy, but those power sources were not major players in the state’s emergency plans.

Dr. Cohan said the state’s emergency scenario wasn’t so far off in some of its predictions, but it failed to anticipate the scale of outages caused by this winter storm, particularly among natural gas power plants.

“None of their scenarios envisioned that we could possibly have over 30,000 megawatts of outages at the same time,” he said. “That’s more than double their worst-case.”

Experts are still assembling a full picture of what contributed to the power failures and lawmakers have called for an investigation into ERCOT’s preparedness and handling of the situation.

 

 

 

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