Texas Remains in Peril

Texas Remains in Peril

It has been one year since the devastating blackouts in Texas, so it’s time to examine whether Texas is in danger of repeating the disaster.

Winterization

Winterization was one of the issues raised as a cause of the blackouts. 

The adequacy of winterization plans for natural gas power plants won’t be known until after September 2022, when a statewide mapping of the electric supply chain is completed.

It’s also unclear whether natural gas pipeline pumping stations have been added to the critical infrastructure list. Not being on that list resulted in electricity being cut to pumping stations last year, which cut the supply of natural gas to power plants.

Reserve Margins

There were insufficient reserve margins before last year’s blackouts. 

Wind and solar installations were included in reserve margins even though it’s impossible to guarantee they can generate significant quantities of electricity.

This chart from three years ago predicted that reserve margins in 2021 would be essentially zero when electricity from wind and solar was unavailable.

 

Only baseload power plants, i.e., dispatchable power, should be included in reserve margins. Natural gas, coal, and nuclear are the only types of power generation that can be relied on 24/7 throughout the year, assuming the plants are properly maintained, including winterization.

(A few states can rely on hydro or geothermal, but they are not available in Texas.)

Baseload power plants can have breakdowns which is one of the reasons for reserve margins. The other reason for maintaining reserve margins is that demand can also exceed previous peaks, such as unexpected air conditioning or heating loads. 

Reserve margins protect against unusual peaks in demand and unforeseen equipment failures.

Wind and solar are unreliable and cannot be included in reserves.

One would think it would be easy to determine whether Texas has adequate reserve margins for this winter.

Unfortunately, data provided by ERCOT is specious, and it’s likely that Texas lacks adequate reserve capacity. 

Is ERCOT’s published reserve margins of 41.2% realistic for the winter of 2022? See red arrows.

ERCOT Winter Reserve Margin Table

 

Why would ERCOT publish such an unrealistic reserve margin?

Did ERCOT expect the media to repeat the information? And for the public to be comforted by the news?

Note that peak demand was based on “normal weather”. But reserve margins are to protect against abnormal weather.

Note also that wind and solar are included as available supplies. These are bracketed by the red square in the accompanying table from the ERCOT report.

ERCOT determines reserve margins by subtracting Firm Peak Load Forecast from Total Capacity and dividing the result by the Firm Load Forecast. (See black arrows in the accompanying table.)

Subtracting wind and solar from available capacity establishes a reserve margin of 24%.

A similar process using ERCOT’s summer data arrives at a negative reserve margin for the summer months.

Wind and solar cannot be used as reserve capacity because wind and solar are unreliable. There is no sunshine at night, and there are multiple days where the wind doesn’t blow strongly enough, i.e., over ten mph, to generate meaningful amounts of electricity. 

This is what happened in the winter of 2021 when a high-pressure zone stalled over the entire mid-continent of North America.

Chart from Gregg Goodnight’s Heartland presentation.

The reserve margin calculation is distorted by using Firm Load Forecast instead of the peak load actually experienced by ERCOT.

In last years’ disaster, the peak load was around 76,800 MW, approximately 16,000 MW higher than the Firm Load Forecast used by ERCOT to calculate this winter’s reserve margin. (Top arrow in accompanying table.)

Using the 2021 peak load of 76,800 MW, which is the least that should be expected in any future storm, and using total capacity without wind and solar, results in a reserve margin of 0.4%.

In other words, ERCOT’s realistic reserve margin for this winter is nearly zero.

In a special note, ERCOT says:

“Nearly 85,000 MW of resource capacity is expected to be available for the winter peak. This amount is all operational capacity.”

This includes wind and solar, presumably, as there is no comment to the contrary. 

Additions to ERCOT Grid

ERCOT continues to add large amounts of wind and solar, while adding only small amounts of baseload power.

SOURCE

 

Conclusion

ERCOT continues to add wind and solar, ignoring the need for baseload power.

It’s uncertain whether the winterization of natural gas power plants and pipelines will be completed before the winter of 2023.

Based on information published on the ERCOT website, ERCOT has insufficient reserve capacity to prevent a disaster this year if there is a severe winter storm.

Texas will continue to live with the constant threat of disasters unless ERCOT revises its policies. Adding more baseload power would be an essential first step.

. . .

 

(258)

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24 Replies to “Texas Remains in Peril”

  1. Great information. So, the reserve margin is like an emergency cash fund — without it during an emergency — you’re out in the cold — or worse.

  2. Again, great work Donn.

    As for natural gas pipeline pumping stations; why not engine-driven pumps like it used to be? Problem solved. Next up: Using natural gas directly instead of electric heat pumps, water heaters, stoves, etc.

    • Replacing natural gas pumping with electric drives to cut methane emissions was a stupid thing to do. Just more net-zero insanity. Natural gas for heating is usually more economic than heat pumps. The same is true for water heaters.

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  13. Texas first learned about cold weather problems in the 1980s. In February 2011 they had 3.2 million customers affected by rolling blackouts. In February 2021 about 5 million were affected by actual blackouts.

    No one wants to spend a lot of money to winterize the entire energy infrastructure.
    Not only power plants. Perhaps the nuclear plants are okay, but even coal plants had problems in February 2021, believe it or not.

    The August 2011 FERC report (link below) said what to do. It did not say spend a fortune on windmills, or get only windmills with no blade heater options. But I suppose I was the only person who read the report? But I live in Michigan, not Texas!

    https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/08-16-11-report.pdf

    The Texas energy infrastructure has always been vulnerable to unusually cold weather, and buying windmills in the past decade just increased the risk. There is no indication that risk will ever be eliminated. Maybe not even reduced.

    • Thanks for you comments, including the link to the FERC/NERC report.
      I think the issue can be resolved if people become aware of what is transpiring. It is a life and death issue.
      The report contains a great deal of information, but skipped over the issue of reserve margins. It repeated ERCOT’s silly claim of a 54% reserve margin while saying it met NERC’s 13% requirement.
      Overlooking the importance of reserve margins and how they are determined could have been accidental, however I suspect it was intentional.
      The majority of FERC commissioners have said climate change is an existential threat and support actions to achieve net-zero carbon. Chairman Glick has, on several occasions, made statements to that effect.
      The fact that FERC would not allow ISO-NE to use oil as a backup fuel for natural gas power plants, is a strong indication that they have a hidden agenda. Due to the lack of natural gas, oil was the obvious means for preventing blackouts in New England.
      The fact is, RTO/ISOs want to use wind and solar in preference to all other sources. They use, what I refer to as rigged auctions, to guarantee the use of wind and solar ahead of natural gas or nuclear power.
      All of this is fully documented in my book, The Looming Energy Crisis Are Blackouts Inevitable. If I was alone in this view, people could say i was wrong. But I am not alone as Meredith Angwin’s book, Shorting the Grid establishes many of the same facts.
      Wind and solar cannot be used in reserve margins as my article establishes.
      This is an important issue that Americans must become aware of. It is a life and death issue.

  14. Texas set up financial incentives so windmill investments
    after 2011 would earn a good return on investment.
    Winterizing expenses could have no return
    on the investment, if you assumed global warming
    would reduce risk in the future.
    It had been ten years since the last blackouts in 2011.
    So it was easy to believe really cold Texas weather
    might not happen again after 2021. Many people confuse
    weather and climate.

    An additional problem with the known low reserve margins,
    said to be half the national average, with a large percentage
    of windmill capacity: There were too few interconnections
    with other grids, which are really important with such a low
    reserve capacity and so many windmills.

    ERCOT connections to other grids are limited
    to ~1,250 MW of direct current (DC) ties,
    which allow control over flow of electricity
    600 MW with SPP 30 MW with CENACE at Eagle Pass,
    100 MW with CENACE at Laredo, 300 MW with CENACE
    at McAllen, 220 MW with SPP Texas RE PUBLIC.

    Only a small amount of out of state electricity
    could be purchased, if available. I know there were
    also some loss of power problems in neighboring
    Oklahoma during the 2021 Texas blackout.

    Texas (and California, Germany and Australia)
    are the “canaries in the coal mine” warning us about
    the risks of adding unreliables to an electric grid.
    But I’m not sure many people are listening.

    • Thanks for your comments.
      No question, the states and countries you mention are canaries in the coal mine.
      Unfortunately, too few people are listening.
      It’s hard to get through the blanket of misinformation broadcast by the media, but we must keep trying.

  15. Maybe deja vu all over again?

    A word on Texas:

    Last year’s winter storm hit on Feb 14. West Texas was walloped with freezing temperatures and record snow, conditions which led to burst pipes, downed tree limbs, widespread power outages and the deaths of hundreds of people.

    Timing of this week’s Arctic blast remains uncertain, but meteorologists are warning that the freeze could compare to 2021’s …

    This is a serious storm, reports sanangelolive.com, and residents should make ready “while the weather is still good.”

    … latest GFS runs show the potential for a continent spanning Arctic invasion due to engulf all of North America starting Tuesday, Feb 4 for the North, and Wednesday, Feb 5 for the Southern and East.

    Running the model, Texas, for example, can expect temperature departures some 20C below the winter average ACROSS the entire state as soon as Wednesday evening.

    • We can hope we don’t have the same conditions as last year, but ERCOT has not done enough to protect against another winter storm without disastrous results.

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    • Good question. At the moment I don’t know how to do what you ask. But I’ll try to find out.
      UPDATE: The graph can now be enlarged by clicking on it