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Winter storm forces blackouts across Texas

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Unprecedented winter storms hit Texas so hard and forced so many power plants offline that grid outages that began Sunday night turned into outages lasting several hours, leaving an estimated 2.5 million customers without power as of Monday morning. . Until these plants can be put back into service, it is not known how many people will be helpless and for how long.

It’s the terrible report from Texas network operator ERCOT, after its supply-demand balance worsened much worse than expected until Sunday evening and Monday morning. The historic storm that unleashed a emergency declaration Governor Greg Abbott forced power plants and wind farms to stop producing electricity on Friday, triggering statewide emergency blackouts and leaving the timing of restoring that power uncertain.

Texas became the epicenter of a series of winter storms that blanketed the central United States and triggered storm watches in 40 states. ERCOT hit a record winter demand peak of around 69.2 gigawatts on Sunday evening. The demand for electricity to heat and power homes, businesses and factories remained high through the evening and until Monday morning, Dan Woodfin, senior director of ERCOT system operations, said at a conference of press Monday.

At the same time, a number of natural gas, coal and nuclear thermal generators began to go offline as of 1:30 a.m. on Monday, he said. Although ERCOT has not yet collected the data to determine the precise causes of these generator failures, a previous report by a cold snap in 2014 suggests a range of causes, natural gas pipelines freeze, faulty equipment necessary for the plants to operate safely.

ERCOT has been working with generators for a decade to improve wintering practices to prevent these types of cold-related outages, Woodfin said. Similar efforts to ensure an adequate level of supply amid cold spells were put in place in the northeastern United States following the “polar vortex” storms of the past decade. But the storm’s unusual severity meant ERCOT’s efforts weren’t enough, according to Woodfin.

“This event was way beyond design parameters for a typical, if not extreme, Texan winter that you expected,” he said. “This weather event is truly unprecedented – all of us who live here know it.”

Rapidly dropping temperatures and storms of a ferocity Texas has not seen since the 1940s have also forced some of the state’s vast wind resources to go offline due to icing of wind turbine blades, did he declare. But thermal power plants made up the majority of the lost supply, he said.

In total, around 34 GW of production capacity was not available on Monday morning.

UPDATE: It is also possible that the natural gas supply constraints of the generators force the factories to go offline. Jesse Jenkins, professor of engineering at Princeton at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, noted in a Monday tweet that sources told him that about 26 gigawatts of production capacity forced out of service overnight consisted of natural gas plants unable to procure fuel for heating needs.

From continual power outages to widespread blackouts, with an uncertain restoration schedule

This growing loss of production has forced ERCOT to take emergency measures, maintaining sufficient spare capacity to ensure that its entire network does not collapse, according to Woodfin. These went from voluntary requests to conserve and seek out out-of-state electricity imports to its final “energy emergency alert three” call to state transmission utilities for start shutting down parts of their networks early Monday morning.

“At our peak, we asked transmission operators to reduce 16,900 megawatts of load,” said Woodfin. While these load reductions are supposed to be executed as “blackouts” that spin between parts of their networks for 15 to 45 minutes each, the magnitude of the gap between supply and demand has forced utilities to shut down. extend the duration of outages for hours, to avoid blackening sections of the network serving hospitals, police and fire stations and other critical facilities.

The outages affected major utilities such as Centerpoint, Oncor, Entergy, Texas New Mexico Power and American Electric Power Texas, as well as municipal utilities such as Austin Energy and CPS Energy of San Antonio, and rural power cooperatives. which serve large parts of the state.

The central part of the state appeared to be the most affected on Monday morning, according to data from the tracking site PowerOutage.US. Oncor, which serves the greater Dallas / Fort Worth area, has reported over a million customers without power, while AEP has reported over 300,000 and Austin Energy and CPS about 200,000 each.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) also instituted emergency load reductions on Monday in its territories of Texas and Oklahoma.

The scale and duration of winter blackouts in Texas are far greater than those California grid operator CAISO was forced to institute in a heat wave in the region in August that affected several hundred thousand customers for about an hour on two consecutive evenings. While a handful of natural gas generators were taken offline during the emergency, the state was able to call on voluntary conservation and additional supplies to avoid power outages later this summer. California regulators are working to bring more network capacity online to avoid similar emergencies this summer.

ERCOT’s wholesale electricity market, which is exclusively energy, has been able to attract demand response and other sources of grid flexibility during less severe cold spells and summer heat waves these past few years. last years. But the scale of the current storm and the scale of offline generators have overwhelmed those resources.

As of mid-morning Monday, “we’ve seen a slowdown in the number of generators that have tripped offline,” Woodfin said, giving hope that more generators can be brought back to the grid to restore power to more. clients.

“We don’t think these outages will be multi-day outages,” he said. “We hope they can come back in a few hours.” But, added Woodfin, “it depends entirely on how much production is available.”



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