Texas Power Grid Train Wreck

Almost 8 million Texans lost power and 13 million had no water from February 15 through February 19 because of extreme cold weather.

Explanations for the outages include lack of generating plant winterization, natural gas shortages from frozen wells and pipelines, and poor grid management. These were all factors but the triggers for the power crisis were the failure of electricity generated by wind and poor planning by the state’s grid operator ERCOT.

Temperatures commonly dip below freezing for a few hours on a few winter days in parts of Texas. Last month, temperatures fell into the low-20 degree Fahrenheit range in south Texas (Figure 1). The mean Houston temperature in February is about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. On February 15, it was 20 degrees.

This was the first time since 2011 that a freeze left so many in the state without power. The weekly energy used for space heating during the 2021 crisis was 56% higher than for the crisis week in 2011.

Figure 1. Low temperature map for week ending February 17, 2021. Source: NOAA and Labyrinth Consulting Services. Inc.

 

The storm was not a surprise. The state’s grid management company ERCOT ramped up electric power generation a week in advance. In the early morning of February 15, net generation dropped 15 GW (gigawatt hours) from 68 to 53 GW (Figure 2). By early evening, it had fallen another 9 GW to 44 GW. The result was loss of electric power to millions of homes.

Much of the state’s water relies on electric pumps to move it through pipelines. When electric power was lost, pumps stopped working and there were shortages of water.

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6 Comments

  • SadiJevons

    The invention and implementation of national power grids worldwide was no less than “The [Im]moral Case for Economics to Trade Fossil Fuels As If Infinite or Looted, Since the Steam Engine”.

    Winterizing the power network in Texas effectively requires Energy enough to add new 63 GWh to the Texans grid – when calculated end-to-end.

    In Iraq, what the government did is – it provides the little electricity the 39 million people-country generates (19 GWh) to homes on one side of a street and then the other, at significantly reduced voltage rate (150v instead of standard 220v), for a total of 2 or 3 hours a day – in a good day. Plus, a daily loud promise over the media the grid will improve ‘next season’ – and that is going on now since 2003 – smart!

    The government in Iraq needed to tell its citizen, instead: look, there is no enough energy left in the ground. What little left is badly needed in China, India and elsewhere – let’s draft a new Social Contract between us not written with oil!

    Sadi Carnot, William Jevons, Rudolf Clausius, Boltzmann, Nikola Tesla, Hubert and schools of other geniuses have dismissed looking at the fact that the Energy supply anyone gets from anywhere anytime is actually a product of colossally more Energy burned somewhere else earlier.

    It is here where fossil fuels reserves couldn’t cope, so vanished worldwide in 300 years or so – and that is exactly how fossil fuels are dangerously hypnotic and intoxicating to humans.

    Today, arm forces from at least 5 nations are choreographing the guarding of looting the Syrian NE oil – Russia, Iran, Syrian regime, Turkey and the US.

    The barrels at the centre of the drama are more or less 4500 barrel of oil p/d.

    India consumes 4.5 million b/d. China consumes 17.5+ million b/d.

    The contrast between how the 4.5 thousand barrel attracts the Energy of 5 armies but tens of millions of barrels go to China and India as smooth as butter daily – inspires that the world might be actually deep in an Energy Musical Chairs Game.

    The situation there in Syria is so surreal and violent for ordinary people, former Senator Tulsi Gubbard has given it a touching comment mentioning forced “Energy Deprivation” in the context, recently.

    Wailing.

  • Peter

    Is there any truth to the reports that the Feds prevented additional power generation using gas because it would have exceeded pollution limits imposed by the Feds?

  • flipcdr@comcast.net

    I just read your latest tweet about an oil super cycle and wondering if you have read Jeremy Grantham’s piece from a few years back – “Time to wake up Investors.”

    https://archive.thinkprogress.org/jeremy-grantham-must-read-time-to-wake-up-days-of-abundant-resources-and-falling-prices-are-over-4332e8898c76/

    Pretty sure he is not pitching his book like GS etc. he may be wrong, of course but i think he is calling for the mother of all super cycles. maybe i am using the term incorrectly but it is worth a look in any event, i think.

    that said i think you do great work and thank you for it!

    • art.berman

      Grantham’s arguments are sound and largely accurate for oil considering that this article was written in 2011. Late 2010 through 2014 represented the longest period of inflation-adjusted oil prices above $90 in history. It is probably reasonable to call the period from 2005 through 2014 a sort of super-cycle for oil. It was founded in a new source of demand from China and a production plateau from 2004 until tight oil took the world above that plateau in 2012. There are other arguments like monetary policy that some might argue don’t support the super-cycle thesis but I will leave those alone for now.

      The situation now is quite different. There is no shortage of oil. There simply was not enough drilling in 2020 to sustain further demand. That has resulted in an increase in oil prices as markets signal to producers to get busy and drill. It is not a problem, however, that more drilling cannot solve by the end of 2021. There is no new source of demand or capital like there was a decade ago.

      Those are the main reasons that I am skeptical about the super-cycle thesis.

      All the best,

      Art

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