A weak point in the Texas energy grid was made painfully obvious in February of 2021 when a series of winter storms swept across the state. The storms left over 5 million people without sustained power and 11 million more dealing with rolling blackouts. Following the events, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is overhauling their system to better provide the reliability they strive for.
What is ERCOT?
ERCOT doesn’t produce power, nor do they own the infrastructure used to transport electricity to consumers. Instead, they manage, monitor, and forecast the flow of electricity to provide consumers with reliable power when they need it. ERCOT has been in operation for 75 years and serves nearly the entire state of Texas, connecting over 600 generation units to 24 million consumers. A large portion of their time is dedicated to forecasting power consumption and matching it to power generation. This includes determining the amount of power that can be obtained from sources such as the sun and wind, both of which only work at certain times.
What caused the outages?
The power outages experienced in Texas during the winter of 2021 were initially blamed on frozen renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels. However, it was later discovered that the lack of electricity arose from the state’s poorly winterized natural gas storage and generation units. The more units that froze up, the less electricity there was to power the pumps at the others, further escalating the crisis. These weak points were previously realized during a similar storm situation in 2011, however, ERCOT didn’t see the cost benefits of winterizing their equipment.
What changes has ERCOT made?
ERCOT began recovery from the crisis by rolling out a 60 item action list, the first of which was releasing five of their employees and voting to fire their CEO. The next step was to begin passing laws that allow them more access to information from the companies producing electricity, giving themselves more control over output and the ability to respond quickly to emergencies. Particular attention has been given to the forecasting of extreme and unlikely weather events in hopes of giving themselves and Texans a heads-up next time.
Some of the more hands-on changes include inspections of all natural gas electricity generation units to ensure they pass new winterization requirements. Natural gas backup supply will also be maintained at higher volumes during the winter months. Old gas infrastructure such as pipes and pumps will eventually be replaced with newer ones better suited to cold weather.
Other than moving some personnel around, doing inspections, and being active in the courthouses; ERCOT has been all talk and no action. While new legislation has been passed concerning the winterization of equipment, it isn’t mandatory and ERCOT doesn’t seem too busy to roll out hundreds of new upgrades. Some experts are shocked with how little ERCOT is investing in technologies for gas winterization and expect the next large winter storm could again cause outages.
Texas residents are left questioning what their future would look like in the event of another winter storm.
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