Watershed: Texas Catastrophe Clarifies Climate/Energy Challenge

February 19, 2021

Washington Post:

Humanity has no choice but to transition to cleaner sources of energy, but the build-out will require smart planning to ensure reliability. That means not only that utilities must deploy methods to store intermittent renewable electricity and that the government must invest in new interstate transmission lines to transfer energy from places where the wind is blowing to others where it is not. It also means building energy infrastructure to resist weather extremes that are likely to be more common. It is certain that heat waves, droughts and wildfires will become more frequent. Scientists are also assessing whether sudden cold snaps like the one that shut down Texas could be related to rapid polar warming, which might be disturbing frigid air currents that generally stay north.

Utility Dive:

But data from the state’s grid operator makes it clear that the majority of outages were caused by gas supply constraints corresponding to a major spike in demand. Though no power resource performed perfectly, power sector experts dismissed the idea that renewables alone were to blame for the outages.

Many questions remain, however, on whether grid operators in Texas were prepared, how generators could have better planned for such extreme weather, how they might in the future and whether future rolling blackouts can be minimized.

“The fact that this was not wind’s fault is not an argument that the wind system as we currently have it would have done better if it were a bigger part of the grid,” said Emily Grubert, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech. “It’s an argument that we need to be more prepared for emergency situations. It’s an argument that we need to think about how we’re designing a grid that is probably going to be subjected to more extremes than it has been in the past for climate change reasons, in particular. It’s not really a fuel thing. It’s a grid design thing.”

Houston Chronicle:

“Quite frankly, it’s time to look at whether Texas should join the national grid,” said Garcia, whose Houston district has been without power for days. “If we have to look at incentives to get Texas to do that — if it’s better for the Texas good, then I think we need to do that.”

Fletcher and Veasey penned a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday asking for “a conversation on the benefits and challenges” of permitting outside energy transfers to Texas during emergencies.

“We understand that there are a number of legal, technical and infrastructure hurdles that will need to be overcome for greater interconnection,” the representatives wrote. “We firmly believe that every option should be explored so that we can avoid another catastrophic power failure.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio also believes the move should be “actively explored,” a spokesman said.

Some of the chamber’s most powerful Democrats appear to agree, and are at least skeptical of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit known as ERCOT that manages about 90 percent of the state’s electric load.

“The fact that Texas is almost like an island separated from the rest of the nation’s energy grids — I don’t think (that) helps because it’s more difficult for us to get power to them in the time of crisis,” U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during a hearing Thursday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called the outages “heartbreaking” but “predictable,” said Thursday that the energy committee will be investigating the outages “to see how things could have turned out better and will turn out better in the future.”

“Together, we must build back better an electric grid that’s cheaper, cleaner and more reliable,” Pelosi said in a statement this week.

Texas Republicans aren’t likely to go along with any effort to nationalize Texas’ grid, which is the only standalone grid in the country. Former Gov. Rick Perry made that clear on Wednesday, telling House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”

Jim Krane, an energy fellow at Rice University, said one of the easiest ways to make the Texas grid more reliable would be to connect it with the rest of the country — but the additional federal regulations that accompany that move could be a “pretty steep price, at least in the eyes of Texans.”

But, he added, “that price might not look so steep if you’re someone who just lost power and you might want more regulation.”

One Response to “Watershed: Texas Catastrophe Clarifies Climate/Energy Challenge”

  1. John Oneill Says:

    Meredith Angwin has just brought out a book – ‘ Shorting the Grid – The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid.’ ‘As a working chemist, Meredith Angwin headed projects that lowered pollution and increased reliability on the electric grid. Her work included pollution control for nitrogen oxides in gas-fired combustion turbines and corrosion control in geothermal and nuclear systems.’
    Her thesis is that ‘ Just in Time’ generators are favoured by the way the electricity market is set up. Gas is not stored, mostly, except the residual volume left in the pipelines. Wind and solar go straight from the environment to your computer. Hydro, coal, and nuclear can have reserves of months on site, but are given no credit for it. Of these, hydro can be restricted in heat waves, when there are many other demands on water -farming, fire-fighting, public supply, keeping minimal levels for fish life. Flow is greatly reduced in winter, too. Coal can have problems with freezing of the stockpiles, and is killing enough people to negate its cheapness and convenience. Nuclear is by far the most resilient, simply because of the density of the fuel. A few tons of uranium pellets will provide steady power for a year and a half to two years, often ‘breaker to breaker’ – with no interruptions at all.
    The Perseverance and Curiosity Mars probes show the advantage of a steady power supply in adverse conditions – Curiosity achieved far more on its 4 kg of plutonium than previous solar powered probes which preceded it. Uranium in a reactor provides about twenty times more power per gram than Nasa’s radioisotope generators, and converts it to electricity about three times more efficiently, and on demand.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: