Climate change/global warming/outdated state energy policy/and just fake news and politics in 2021
Notice outages in ERCOT Texas only, and not OUTSIDE of ERCOT. See explanation below.
Climate change/global warming/outdated state energy policy/and just fake news and politics are evident in this Texas disaster. Like any good disaster, this week’s power failures in Texas have several and at times complicated causes. The primary cause being human error – not a single person’s error, or a group of people or even that of a single organization. Rather, this disaster is the product to many decades of collective human error. We are certain to experience similar disasters in the future.
Ironically, Texas has a climate change bull’s eye sitting on it. For example in the summer, hotter air and sea temperatures are fueling more energetic and violent hurricanes. Warmer air in the artic region, well above the Earth’s average temperature rises, are changing the jet stream so that the low pressure of the tropic system tends to stall. Hurricane Harvey is case and point. See Trenberth, K. E., Cheng, L., Jacobs, P., Zhang, Y., & Fasullo, J. (2018). Hurricane Harvey links to ocean heat content and climate change adaptation. Earth’s Future, 6. https://doi.org/10.1029/ 2018EF000825.
This week, Texas got hit with the winter version of a warming Arctic. The Arctic is warming more than twice as quickly than the global surface average, a phenomenon called “Arctic amplification”. Those of us on the East Coast will recall the “Polar Vortex” of 2019. This artic warming and weakening of the jet stream cause Artic air to spill into the mid-latitudes – like New England in 2019 and Texas in 2021. See https://www.carbonbrief.org/qa-how-is-arctic-warming-linked-to-polar-vortext-other-extreme-weather.
“Many parts of the state of Texas experienced rolling blackouts today, coinciding with unusually cold temperatures across many parts of the state. Millions of customers statewide appear to have been affected. It appears that wind energy was not in any way a cause of this event. In fact, wind energy actually played a major role in keeping the blackouts from becoming more severe” writes Michael Goggin IN 2011! You may recall that this was during the Dallas Superbowl in 2011. After considerable study, recommendations were made to harden the Texas energy system for winter events, and it was found that wind turbines did more than their fair share to HELP mitigate and recover from this disaster. See https://cleanpower.org/blog/fossil-power-plant-problems-cause-texas-blackouts/Michael Goggin, Fossil power plant problems cause Texas blackouts, February 2, 2011. Plenty of other references to the follow-on studies are available.
Part I of the story: man-made climate change causes, well changing climate. Texas has been hit in the summer by hurricanes behaving badly, and in the winter by the Polar Vortex.
Part II: the power system in Texas is vulnerable. I’m sure in 1930 there were plenty of valid reasons Texas made the decision to stay apart from the national grid the other 48 contiguous states are integrated with. Look to the North of Texas and the far West: the small parts of Texas that ARE connected to the nation’s grid have power, the “ERCOT Texas” does not. ERCOT being the grid operator for most of Texas, and paradoxically stands for the “Electric Reliability Council of Texas”. Look where the lights went out – in ERCOT not in other areas of Texas outside of ERCOT: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/02/16/us/winter-storm-texas-power-outage-map.html
Look, ERCOT worked last week EXACTLY AS DESIGNED. Here are the issues with ERCOT:
1. Most obvious: its not connected, so if there are problems, the ERCOT cannot import power from other states.
2. The ERCOT has the lowest reserve margins in the US.
3. ERCOT’s market design is defective. There are not the “capacity payments” that are necessary elements to incentivize investors to build new generation. Therefore, there is a lack of gas fired generation needed.
4. No capacity payment, no summer and winter capacity tests and mandatory design requirements. EVEN South Texas Nuclear Project experienced a forced outage due to the cold. That is un-imaginable.
5. Most ERCOT gas fired plants are hardened for winter – it does not cost very much.
6. BUT, the natural gas operators let the gas system freeze and failed to deliver gas!
7. And no, this 2021 outage, the 2011 outage, etc. had nothing to do with wind power. Wind turbines work just fine in the cold, and recover from icing relatively quickly if they get impacted at all.
I have not heard discussion of another facet of this Texas disaster: the economic impact. Not the economic impact of the economy being shuttered for a week or so. A lot of people bought very expensive power. This excess to normal power costs will certainly set a record. These spikes are very much part of the no-capacity payment ERCOT market design. The consumers of Texas will pay a huge price for this disaster. The bill is as of now not fully known.
So what not to do: play politics. Gov Abbott going on Fox News blaming wind turbines and the green new deal was wrong. Firstly, the actual causes are known by the Gov, and he was just generating fake news. People died here, and red hearings are uncalled for. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/02/17/texas-abbott-wind-turbines-outages/
What TO DO: here are some common sense and not particularly costly suggestions:
1. Reduce unnecessary harmful environmental practices such as the flaring of natural gas in Texas.
2. Support climate change friendly policies. These policies have benefited Texas in particular, and unlike the fake news narrative, do not detract from economic growth.
3. Texas has a HUGE climate change impact problem. The Gov should get off Fox News and get a study done ASAP. Hurricanes and Polar Vortex are not the only global warming related impacts the state will experience.
4. ERCOT should become an “ISO” and join the rest of America and connect to the US grid. The pushback, is that move requires that Texas become subject to the same federal rules the rest of us are subject to. Seems like a small price to pay.
5. ERCOT needs to change its market design.
6. Harden the state’s natural gas system so it operates under all weather conditions.
7. Harden electric generator and transmission systems so that they are more resilient.
8. Don’t screw up renewables – it’s the only thing that is working these days.