How Texas power generation failed during the storm, in charts

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A huge winter storm hit Texas earlier this week, knocking out power plants and leaving millions without power or heat for days in freezing conditions.

A significant part of the problem: The state’s power plants were unprepared for the freezing temperatures that accompanied the storm. Natural gas, coal and nuclear power plants – which provide the bulk of Texas’ electricity in the winter – were taken out of service and wind turbines also froze.


Texas power generation was impacted during the storm. Natural gas was the hardest hit.





Electricity Generation in Texas by Fuel Source

Natural gas power, the state’s main source of electricity, was the hardest hit during the storm.

great winter

the storm begins

Coal, nuclear and wind were also disrupted.

Electricity Generation in Texas by Fuel Source

Natural gas power, the state’s main source of electricity, was hardest hit during the storm.

great winter

the storm begins

Coal, nuclear and wind were also disrupted.

Electricity Generation in Texas by Fuel Source

Natural gas power, the state’s main source of electricity, was the hardest hit during the storm.

great winter

the storm begins

Coal, nuclear and wind were also disrupted.

Electricity Generation in Texas by Fuel Source

Natural gas power, the state’s main source of electricity, was the hardest hit during the storm.

great winter

the storm begins

Coal, nuclear and wind were also disrupted.

The state’s main source of electricity was the hardest hit.

Coal, nuclear and wind were also disrupted.


By the New York Times·Source: US Energy Information Administration Electricity Grid Hourly Monitor

Conservative politicians and pundits were quick to blame wind farms and renewables more broadly for the blackouts. But natural gas – which is a crucial energy source when electricity consumption peaks – has been hit the hardest.

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

During outages, the grid lost about five times as much energy from natural gas as from wind. Natural gas production froze, as did the pipelines that transport the gas. Once the power plants were offline, they were not ready to restart in sub-freezing conditions.

Demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses has also increased, contributing to shortages. And high gas prices further disrupted production, as operators who couldn’t make a profit shut down their plants.

Several coal-fired power plants and one of four nuclear facilities in Texas were also knocked out by cold temperatures.

The generally mild condition does not require power plants to be winterized — “as we painfully discovered,” said Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas research associate at the Austin Energy Institute.

As generation dwindled from the grid, electricity demand in Texas hit an all-time high for the 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 electric grid, reported demand peaked at 69,000 megawatts on Sunday, beating its projected worst-case scenario.

Soon after, the grid operator instructed utilities to begin controlled blackouts to prevent longer-term damage.


Comparison between electricity production and the worst plans





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

Natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydroelectric power

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

But electricity production fell much lower from February 14 to 17.

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

Natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydraulic

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

But electricity production fell much lower from February 14 to 17.


By the New York Times·Source: US Energy Information Administration Electricity Grid Hourly Monitor; Seasonal Resource Adequacy Assessment for the ERCOT Region, Winter 2020-21 | Note: This graph represents ERCOT’s thermal, wind and solar production. It does not include auxiliary and standby power supplies used during peak demand.

In its seasonal risk assessment, ERCOT predicted that “extreme” winter demand could reach 67,000 megawatts statewide if conditions matched the 2011 ice storm that caused outages in parts of the state. . The researchers estimate that if the grid had been able to supply it, the power needed for heating would have increased demand by around 5,000 megawatts earlier this week.

Governor Greg Abbott blamed power outages on solar and wind power, but these energy sources were not major players in state emergency plans.

Dr Cohan said the state’s emergency scenario wasn’t that far off in some of his forecasts, but he didn’t anticipate the scale of outages caused by this winter storm, especially among natural gas power plants.

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

Experts are still putting together a full picture of what contributed to power outages and lawmakers have asked for an investigation in the preparation and management of the situation by ERCOT.



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