Confirmed: Gas, Coal Nuclear Failed Texas, not Wind

February 16, 2021

Bloomberg:

Don’t point too many fingers at Texas wind turbines, because they’re not the main reason broad swaths of the state have been plunged into darkness.

While ice has forced some turbines to shut down just as a brutal cold wave drives record electricity demand, that’s been the least significant factor in the blackouts, according to Dan Woodfin, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.

The main factors: Frozen instruments at natural gas, coal and even nuclear facilities, as well as limited supplies of natural gas, he said. “Natural gas pressure” in particular is one reason power is coming back slower than expected Tuesday, added Woodfin.

“We’ve had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multi-day event,” he said.

The blackouts, which have spread from Texas across the Great Plains, have reignited the debate about the reliability of intermittent wind and solar power as the U.S. seeks to accelerate the shift to carbon-free renewable energy. Rolling outages in California last summer were blamed in part on the retirement of gas plants as the state pursued an aggressive clean-energy agenda. (spoiler: that was wrong as well)

Wind shutdowns accounted for 3.6 to 4.5 gigawatts — or less than 13% — of the 30 to 35 gigawatts of total outages, according to Woodfin. That’s in part because wind only comprises 25% of the state’s energy mix this time of year.

While wind can sometimes produce as much as 60% of total electricity in Texas, the resource tends to ebb in the winter, so the grid operator typically assumes that the turbines will generate only about 19% to 43% of their maximum output.

Even so, wind generation has actually exceeded the grid operator’s daily forecast through the weekend. Solar power has been slightly below forecastMonday.

“The performance of wind and solar is way down the list among the smaller factors in the disaster that we’re facing,” Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, said in an interview. Blaming renewables for the blackouts “is really a red herring.”

That doesn’t mean that frozen turbines are playing no role in the energy crisis, which the grid operator has highlighted. Cody Moore, head of gas and power trading at Mercuria Energy America, noted that wind generation this week is down markedly this week from last week, possibly indicating that turbines are automatically shutting down due to ice.

“We are seeing wind generation down 60% week-over-week,” said Matt Hoza, manager of energy analysis at BTU Analytics. But wind and solar that are operating “are in a very advantageous position” as power prices have topped $1,000 a megawatt-hour.

The situation raises questions about the grid’s preparedness. “Grid demand is so much higher than we’ve really built the system for in the wintertime,” said Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

8 Responses to “Confirmed: Gas, Coal Nuclear Failed Texas, not Wind”

  1. ecoquant Says:

    Wanted to confirm something: Anyone know if the turbines in Texas are equipped with the heaters and anti-ice programming that’s common in the north? These are in the blades, and the operational computers sense out-of-balance, and shut down rotation. They then go into a program which reverses the generator to a motor, and drives the turbine back and forth in an attempt to shake ice free. If that doesn’t work in a couple of tries, the turbine parks, and then retries the procedure.

    It’s conceivable thatsome Texas turbines did not have this feature.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      not sure about that specific feature, but Power Magazine now confirms what I suspected, that there are features that can be added to turbines to harden them for cold weather, which are not generally applied in Texas.
      See post on this page, and

      https://www.powermag.com/texas-gov-declares-ercot-reform-emergency/

      ERCOT said it lost about 34 GW of power supply as the cold temperatures forced both coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants offline. The cold also reduced the supply of natural gas to power plants, and caused wind turbines to freeze. Wind supplies the second-most amount of power to Texas customers, behind natural gas, and the turbines in Texas are not equipped with cold weather packages that would enable them to operate in extreme cold.

      • ecoquant Says:

        Thanks!

        I wondered, because on a tour of the Jiminy Peak wind turbines in western Massachusetts, they spoke of these ice-minimizing mechanisms in theirs.


  2. “The performance of wind and solar is way down the list among the smaller factors in the disaster that we’re facing,” Then the rest of the article and the comments go on to discuss wind turbines and the reduced amount of power they provided along with images of frozen non-turning wind turbines. What will be most remembered and the image which sticks in the mind from this event? If you are in favour of wind generation (and will shortly be fighting the propaganda from global heating denialists and fossil fuel junkies pushing the line that renewables caused the outages) this could be communicated a lot better.

    • ecoquant Says:

      Sweden Shows Texas How to Keep Turbines Going in Icy Weather [“https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-16/sweden-shows-texas-how-to-keep-turbines-spinning-in-icy-weather”]


  3. Alex Epstein has a graph in this tweet that gives a different perspective. It looks like wind performed well below average on the 16th:


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