Just under half of Texas’ power generation, or 53 of nearly 110 gigawatts, was taken offline at some point during the cold snap that swept through Texas this month, said the head of the state electric grid operator at a meeting of its board of directors on Wednesday.
The statistic was one of many stunning figures to emerge from an initial post-mortem of the Texas fiasco delivered by Bill Magness, the chief executive of the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator.
ERCOT has come under pressure in recent days over the actions it has taken to preserve the network as well as its role in ensuring the network can withstand extreme cold. The parents of an 11-year-old child who died of hypothermia have filed a complaint against the agency. And many small electricity and gas companies, as well as a number of households, are furious that they had no choice but to pay exorbitant prices to continue access to energy at the height of storm.
The consequences would have been far worse if ERCOT had not taken prompt emergency action, including deliberately cutting off demand for electricity from the grid to avoid causing an outage that could have lasted weeks or more, Magness pointed out during Of the reunion. “It would be a much more devastating situation for Texans,” he said. “We could still be here today to talk about when the power will come back.”
As the Arctic blast hit the generally warm weather state during the night of Feb. 14 and early in the morning of Feb. 15, pipelines froze, natural gas couldn’t flow to gas-fired power plants and the ice clung to the blades of the wind turbines.
With an increasing number of power plants failing in the middle of the night, ERCOT staff called on transmission operators across the state asking them to “shed” the load – or disconnect the demand for electricity. of the network – in order to preserve the integrity of the network. If demand on the network significantly exceeds supply for even a few minutes, key infrastructure may fail entirely, a situation far worse than what actually happened.
The maximum amount of load requested by ERCOT at any one time was 20 gigawatts. The amount was “considerably higher than anything we’ve ever seen at ERCOT,” Magness said.
The biggest single source of power outages came from gas turbines, although wind turbines, coal-fired power plants and even a nuclear plant also failed in various places. Magness estimated that, of the natural gas supply capacity that failed, about half may have been caused by instrumentation problems and about half by problems related to the natural gas supply failure. – although this estimate is based on anecdotal knowledge and not on data, he mentioned.
The scale of the blackouts far exceeded that of an earlier cold-weather electricity crisis in 2011, which drew some comparisons. At the time, a cumulative 193 generators went offline, eclipsed by the total of 356 generators forced to go offline this month. (There are 680 production units in the Texas system today.)
The 2011 cold weather episode prompted the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees the grid operator, to review the grid’s preparedness for extreme cold events. Although it now recommends weather power plants to their infrastructure, there is no obligation to do so. Magness said ERCOT performs weatherization audits of some production facilities, but does not have the ability to penalize units that do not take measures to protect themselves from the cold.