31 votes

Texas' grid operator warns rolling blackouts are possible as winter storm escalates demand for electricity

40 comments

  1. [3]
    Ellimist
    Link
    For those interested, I can provide a little window to the chaos. I've mentioned it before but I'm a 911 dispatcher for a smaller suburb of the DFW metroplex Last night, the chaos really began...
    • Exemplary

    For those interested, I can provide a little window to the chaos. I've mentioned it before but I'm a 911 dispatcher for a smaller suburb of the DFW metroplex

    Last night, the chaos really began around 2am. 3 of us worked until 6am. About 2am, the rolling blackouts started and fire and smoke alarms were going off en mass across my city. My city has 4 fire engines and they were running almost non stop from 2-5 just taking alarm calls. Even the Battalion chief was in on the action, shagging calls for the obvious non hazard calls.

    Get to work today at 6pm.......my Status Monitor is blown up with calls. Alarms, fire alarms, welfare checks, water calls......it's been relatively non stop since I got here.

    The majority of our calls have been people wanting information or complaining about the rolling blackouts. It's been frustrating because it's not something we have any more information on than anyone else. ERCOT/Oncor haven't reached out to us with any new information that wasn't disseminated on the news/FB/Twitter. We've had elderly calling in accusing us of "not caring about the old folks" because we don't have the power to turn their heat back on.

    Some of our calls have been family members concerned over the lack of power causing issues with home health needs like oxygen dependent folks. Unfortunately, there's not much my FD can do about that except transport to a hospital which no one wants. They just want FD to bring O2 bottles which FD can't do because they have a limited supply themselves and no telling when the roads will be clear enough for the trucks to bring fresh oxygen tanks for the ambulances.

    My PD/Dispatch center has been on generator power since 3am last night. The powers come back intermittently but is currently, on generators again. Fortunately, it doesn't affect our systems except a few lights being off.

    For the most part, it seems people were incapable of preparing for this in any way. It wasn't a secret that this winter storm was coming. We knew it was going to one of the worst in recent years.

    But the number of people who seemed just completely oblivious to this has been mind boggling.

    35 votes
    1. [2]
      Ellimist
      Link Parent
      Replying to provide some update Call volume dropped considerably after about 1am. Presumably because enough people realized there wasn't anything we could do. The city has tried to open two...

      Replying to provide some update

      Call volume dropped considerably after about 1am. Presumably because enough people realized there wasn't anything we could do. The city has tried to open two "warming shelters" but the rolling blackouts have hit most of the city to the point that the shelters couldn't stay open cause, without power, they couldn't stay warm.

      I find the rolling blackouts to have been an absolute disaster in their execution. I've spoken with numerous callers over my shift that are claiming to have been without power for 12+ hours. One man I spoke with claimed to have been without power for going on 24 hours. Could they be embellishing out of frustration? Entirely possible. But even still, it's entirely too cold for these black outs to last more than a few hours at a time. We've dispatched our on call water department personnel and fire department to dozens of water leaks caused by pipes bursting because the power is staying off too long to keep homes even somewhat warm.

      All of my fire stations have been back up generator power for most of the night. Same for my PD/Dispatch center. Our traffic signals have been off and on most of the shift and the Public Works department put out every STOP sign they had to help control traffic through those intersections.

      The weather has even been playing havoc with cell service. I've been unable to do much of anything on my cell phone. Even something like an iMessage would not always go through.

      It's affected both my PD and FD units. Their computers that they use to access their CAD's and get call information have been losing their connections to the city networks. This means that all information about a call must be given out over the radio as opposed to the PD/FD being able to just look at their computers for addresses and call information.

      The local DART rail has had its issues as well. Even though the actual train isn't operating, the train arms at the crossings have been malfunctioning and randomly dropping down blocking the road. At one point, early in the shift, this happened and one of my officers requested we call DART control to let them know. I tried calling DART half a dozen times and it just rang and rang and rang. Never got through to anyone.

      When I got home yesterday morning, it was 55 degrees in my house. I don't know when the power went out but it came back on around 8am. Long enough to warm the house back into the 60s and give me a relatively comfortable sleep for. The power did go off again, at some point, while I was sleeping but came back on when I got up for work. So they seem to be able to get the rolling black out right in my neighborhood lol.

      21 votes
      1. RNG
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I'm visiting a friend in DFW who lost power Sunday night/Monday morning and, as of writing this on Tuesday afternoon, have not had their power restored. We wound up grabbing a suite that had power...

        One man I spoke with claimed to have been without power for going on 24 hours. Could they be embellishing out of frustration? Entirely possible.

        I'm visiting a friend in DFW who lost power Sunday night/Monday morning and, as of writing this on Tuesday afternoon, have not had their power restored. We wound up grabbing a suite that had power to ride this out.

        Edit: After discussing this with them, we've identified multiple folks in this boat, from Wichita Falls to someone in the Mineral Wells/Weatherford area, to a city called Argyle. Another guy says Saginaw and some parts of Fort Worth haven't had power to even the traffic lights since Sunday.

        9 votes
  2. [15]
    arghdos
    Link
    It is bonkers how poorly prepared my area (Austin) is for this. I get the economics of it (why prepare for something as infrequent as snow in Texas) but what would happen if it stayed below...

    It is bonkers how poorly prepared my area (Austin) is for this. I get the economics of it (why prepare for something as infrequent as snow in Texas) but what would happen if it stayed below freezing for a week? Shelter in place and hope for the roads to clear themselves? Why do houses here not have the ability to drain outside faucets?

    In the northeast, this would have been a small flurry at best :p

    13 votes
    1. [2]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. [2]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. [2]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. spit-evil-olive-tips
            Link Parent
            The best analogy I've ever heard for understanding this "did climate change cause weather event X?" is the "steroid era" of Major League Baseball. The peak of the steroid era was the 1998 season,...

            The best analogy I've ever heard for understanding this "did climate change cause weather event X?" is the "steroid era" of Major League Baseball.

            The peak of the steroid era was the 1998 season, when two players both broke a home run record that had stood for almost 40 years.

            You can point to an individual home run in an individual game by either McGwire or Sosa, and ask "did steroids cause that home run?" - but that's not really that interesting of a question.

            You could theoretically build a model of that player's hitting power with and without steroids, and use it to predict that without steroids it still would have gone far enough to be a home run. But, it can never be answered definitively, and even if you could the answer isn't really relevant. The aggregate trend is what's important, not any single event.

            14 votes
    2. Amarok
      Link Parent
      I'm just about ready to call this winter a 'real' winter in western ny. This is what I remember as the norm every year while growing up (and honestly it's still light on overall snowfall). Those...

      I'm just about ready to call this winter a 'real' winter in western ny. This is what I remember as the norm every year while growing up (and honestly it's still light on overall snowfall). Those gnarly arctic burps usually hit us, and some years none of them will make it out of the arctic circle - that's a very warm/wet winter. Having an epic arctic bulge go completely around south of us and trash Texas on the way is not normal. A two day freeze, sure maybe, but a solid week of single digits and kicked off by a legit ice storm? That's crazy for Texas.

      Our fuel oil delivery is two weeks late so the furnace is tapped out. The pellet stove is handling it, but there are some cold spots in this old house without that furnace making up the difference.

      7 votes
    3. [12]
      AugustusFerdinand
      Link Parent
      You'd shelter in place or leave ahead of time, just as if it were any other natural disaster. We've all known this was coming for about a week. The lack of inside water shutoff is the same reason...

      It is bonkers how poorly prepared my area (Austin) is for this. I get the economics of it (why prepare for something as infrequent as snow in Texas) but what would happen if it stayed below freezing for a week? Shelter in place and hope for the roads to clear themselves? Why do houses here not have the ability to drain outside faucets?

      You'd shelter in place or leave ahead of time, just as if it were any other natural disaster. We've all known this was coming for about a week. The lack of inside water shutoff is the same reason the city is so "poorly prepared", because it makes no economic sense to do so. It floods everywhere in Texas, yet only the coast has houses on stilts because it's the only place it makes economic sense to do so (although I'm honestly surprised it's not more common in Houston).

      In the northeast, this would have been a small flurry at best :p

      In Antarctica it'd be a Tuesday.

      1. [2]
        arghdos
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Sure, but the cost of adding insulation to pipes and providing an master water shutoff is laughably small as compared to building a house on stilts to avoid flooding (or even: to having all your...

        The lack of inside water shutoff is the same reason the city is so "poorly prepared", because it makes no economic sense to do so. It floods everywhere in Texas, yet only the coast has houses on stilts because it's the only place it makes economic sense to do so (although I'm honestly surprised it's not more common in Houston).

        Sure, but the cost of adding insulation to pipes and providing an master water shutoff is laughably small as compared to building a house on stilts to avoid flooding (or even: to having all your pipes explode!), so I'm not quite sure the analogy tracks. Also: my windows are dripping with condenstation because everything is single-paned and uninsulated. It's insane... that one would save HUGE amounts of energy in summer months and decrease energy loads. Saying it's cheaper to just... not do these basic things is only a compelling reason for better building code standards, as @skybrian notes.

        This is really simple, relatively low-cost stuff that the rest of the world has figured out.

        In Antarctica it'd be a Tuesday.

        in August :)

        7 votes
        1. AugustusFerdinand
          Link Parent
          There is a master shutoff, it's in the front yard. There are individual shutoffs at every sink and toilet, the only place they're lacking is at exterior spigots which goes into questioning where...

          There is a master shutoff, it's in the front yard. There are individual shutoffs at every sink and toilet, the only place they're lacking is at exterior spigots which goes into questioning where the shut offs should be in the first place. If the exterior spigot is coming out of the wall of the house where do you put the shutoff inside the house? No basements here, so can't go there. Attic is a terrible place for a water shutoff. Not all spigots are coming off a utility room so you can't have the shut on the inside of where the spigot sits. If you do put it in a central location you have now increased the amount of piping as you have to have a dedicated pipe from that cutoff to the spigot instead of a tee along the line. Piping costs money, contractor/plumber time costs money, a moving part has a greater failure rate than a straight pipe, on and on. It doesn't matter if the cost is minimal, there is cost and it's an unnecessary addition in Texas. If you own the house it's your job/obligation to upgrade the windows. Either the house is old enough that single pane was the standard/only option or it was built cheaply with the intent for it to be upgraded later. You can either have a higher upfront cost or extend the cost over time. Let alone the whole logical fallacy that is presentism.

          This is really simple, relatively low-cost stuff that the rest of the world has figured out.

          Citation needed.

          3 votes
      2. [7]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. [6]
          AugustusFerdinand
          Link Parent
          Not sure where you are, but in Texas in every home I've lived in all of the plumbing is inside the walls. There are no basements and so all water coming into (and out of) the house is only...

          Not sure where you are, but in Texas in every home I've lived in all of the plumbing is inside the walls. There are no basements and so all water coming into (and out of) the house is only accessible by either removing a section of wall or going to the cleanout (for sewer) or shut off (for water) outside the house. All of the sinks will have a shut off for water beneath them, but that's outside the wall and for that sink only.

          You'd not fit them because it makes no economic sense to do so. Busted freshwater pipes, especially from freezes, are practically non-existent here.

          3 votes
          1. [5]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            It seems like it would be easy enough to anticipate this in new construction via better building standards, though? Maybe it already happened and we are talking about older housing? It needs to be...

            It seems like it would be easy enough to anticipate this in new construction via better building standards, though? Maybe it already happened and we are talking about older housing?

            It needs to be in building codes because many buyers aren’t going to ask about preparing for rare events like this, and many builders only build to code.

            2 votes
            1. [4]
              AugustusFerdinand
              Link Parent
              Sure, it's easy enough to make the code cover any and all possible scenarios, but as with all things it's about a level of acceptable risk vs cost. We can debate the possibility of increased...

              Sure, it's easy enough to make the code cover any and all possible scenarios, but as with all things it's about a level of acceptable risk vs cost. We can debate the possibility of increased frequency due to climate change until the cows come home, but at the moment you can only go on historical data and the historical data says this is a once-in-a-generation occurrence.

              1 vote
              1. [3]
                skybrian
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                From Loire’s post, it seems like freezing temperatures are more common than that, though? Not as severe, but still worth preparing for. It seems like on their own, people under-prepare for...

                From Loire’s post, it seems like freezing temperatures are more common than that, though? Not as severe, but still worth preparing for.

                It seems like on their own, people under-prepare for disasters of all sorts, whether it’s floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, or earthquakes. (Or pandemics.) I don’t assume they think rationally about the potential costs of low-probability events; this is placing too much faith in markets. Builders are just cheap. They sell the house and after a few years, it’s not their problem anymore.

                Insurers sometimes do think more rationally about risks and raise premiums, but not always. Sometimes competition drives prices down too far and they should stop selling insurance at those prices, but they don’t, resulting in larger costs than they expected later.

                3 votes
                1. [2]
                  AugustusFerdinand
                  Link Parent
                  You should read the last line of Loire's comment. People are cheap and terrible at preparation. Show them two identical houses with one costing more because it has a couple of features that might...

                  From Loire’s post, it seems like freezing temperatures are more common than that, though? Not as severe, but still worth preparing for.

                  You should read the last line of Loire's comment.

                  It seems like on their own, people under-prepare for disasters of all sorts, whether it’s floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, or earthquakes. (Or pandemics.) I don’t assume they think rationally about the potential costs of low-probability events; this is placing too much faith in markets. Builders are just cheap. They sell the house and after a few years, it’s not their problem anymore.

                  People are cheap and terrible at preparation. Show them two identical houses with one costing more because it has a couple of features that might prevent a once-in-a-generation disaster and they'll hedge their bets and choose the cheaper option. If you want people to be prepared you have to force it upon them, to force it you'd have to put it in the building code, to do that you need to justify it, and there simply is no justification for forcing it into the code.

                  Insurers sometimes do think more rationally about risks and raise premiums, but not always. Sometimes competition drives prices down too far and they should stop selling insurance at those prices, but they don’t, resulting in larger costs than they expected later.

                  That's their own problem, their business model is gambling, sometimes they expect to lose.

                  3 votes
                  1. skybrian
                    Link Parent
                    I agree entirely except for the part about there being no justification for it being in the building code. At least superficially, we have our justification right here. Buildings last a long time....

                    I agree entirely except for the part about there being no justification for it being in the building code. At least superficially, we have our justification right here. Buildings last a long time. It seems reasonable?

                    In northern California, we haven’t had a severe earthquake since 1989. This isn’t an excuse not to prepare. Unfortunately we aren’t so good at preparing for other risks. (And maybe not even earthquakes? We’ll see.)

                    (I brought up insurance because it’s a market mechanism that sometimes encourages people to guard against rare risks. An example is threatening to raise rates if you don’t replace the roof. I think these mechanisms don’t always work, though.)

                    4 votes
      3. [3]
        lonjil
        Link Parent
        Mostly curious, do you have anything from a week ago saying things might get pretty hairy? Like an article or some meteorological data. I'm not in/from Texas, but a lot of my friends are, so I'd...

        We've all known this was coming for about a week.

        Mostly curious, do you have anything from a week ago saying things might get pretty hairy?
        Like an article or some meteorological data. I'm not in/from Texas, but a lot of my friends are, so I'd like a better grip on the situation.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          AugustusFerdinand
          Link Parent
          Time restricted google news link.
          4 votes
          1. lonjil
            Link Parent
            Well, that was a lot more than I imagined. Surprised I didn't see any posting about it before. Thanks!

            Well, that was a lot more than I imagined. Surprised I didn't see any posting about it before. Thanks!

            2 votes
  3. spit-evil-olive-tips
    Link
    40% of Austin Energy homes without power amid failed 'rotating blackouts'

    40% of Austin Energy homes without power amid failed 'rotating blackouts'

    Nearly 200,000 Austin Energy customers woke up without power Monday and were not expected to get it back until Tuesday — possibly late in the day — because of a so-called rotating power outage that didn't rotate, leaving parts of the city in the cold and dark.

    Local government leaders and Austin Energy officials held a news conference Monday to address the lingering questions. Fittingly, it started 20 minutes late and began with Travis County Judge Andy Brown losing signal on his phone as he was forced to log in from his car because his Hyde Park home was without electricity.

    8 votes
  4. [9]
    skybrian
    Link
    The Texas grid got crushed because its operators didn’t see the need to prepare for cold weather [...] [...] [...]

    The Texas grid got crushed because its operators didn’t see the need to prepare for cold weather

    In the single-digit temperatures, pipelines froze up because there was some moisture in the gas. Pumps slowed. Diesel engines to power the pumps refused to start. One power plant after another went offline. Even a reactor at one of the state’s two nuclear plants went dark, hobbled by frozen equipment.

    [...]

    Throughout the Southwest, he said, there has been a scramble for gas as sources have gone offline. Most surplus gas is stored underground, he said, and bringing it to the surface becomes more and more difficult in such prolonged low temperatures. March futures for natural gas are selling for $3 per million BTUs in Oklahoma, he said, but the spot price hit $600 over the weekend.

    [...]

    There was a severe cold spell in the Southwest in 2011, and frigid weather in 1983, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010. A study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. of the 2011 event, which also led to widespread blackouts for much the same reasons, found that “the massive amount of generator failures that were experienced raises the question whether it would have been helpful to increase reserve levels going into the event. This action would have brought more units online earlier, might have prevented some of the freezing problems the generators experienced, and could have exposed operational problems in time to implement corrections before the units were needed to meet customer demand.”

    [...]

    Texas shares with California an unwillingness to compensate generation companies for maintenance, Hirs said, unlike most of the rest of the country. He said that what happened to California in the heat last summer has now been reflected in Texas’s winter.

    8 votes
    1. [3]
      Weldawadyathink
      Link Parent
      I am not knowledgeable in the subject, but the statement about California seems very wrong. Texas’ issue is clearly on the generation side. California’s issue is on the transmission side. Even if...

      I am not knowledgeable in the subject, but the statement about California seems very wrong. Texas’ issue is clearly on the generation side. California’s issue is on the transmission side. Even if it weren’t, California can buy power from the west coast grid easily.

      California did have rolling blackouts, but not because of a lack of power generation. It was because transmission lines were almost completely unmaintained.

      Also, not having power is not as big of a deal when you don’t need climate control like Texas does.

      4 votes
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        Yes, in California it's more about maintaining transmission lines so they don't have to be shut down due to fire danger. But I think the broader point is that more maintenance happens if the power...

        Yes, in California it's more about maintaining transmission lines so they don't have to be shut down due to fire danger.

        But I think the broader point is that more maintenance happens if the power companies can charge for it? (I don't know how the regulations work for that.)

        3 votes
      2. nukeman
        Link Parent
        Technically you are correct, however, PG&E (for example) operates both generation and transmission assets.

        Technically you are correct, however, PG&E (for example) operates both generation and transmission assets.

        3 votes
    2. [5]
      bloup
      Link Parent
      How is it illegal and immoral price gouging to load up a handful of generators and tanks of propane into a box truck and sell them to people in disaster stricken areas for a meager profit but it's...

      How is it illegal and immoral price gouging to load up a handful of generators and tanks of propane into a box truck and sell them to people in disaster stricken areas for a meager profit but it's totally cool and legal to buy millions of dollars in propane futures in anticipation of the price skyrocketing due to people desperately trying to stay alive?

      3 votes
      1. [4]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        If not for important issues around inequality, they would both be good things. Higher prices are incentives to anticipate and react to demand, increase supply, and to conserve. Price gouging laws...

        If not for important issues around inequality, they would both be good things. Higher prices are incentives to anticipate and react to demand, increase supply, and to conserve. Price gouging laws mean stuff is sold too cheaply, encouraging hoarding and empty shelves at the worst possible time, making shortages worse.

        But who is making money on propane futures? That doesn't seem to be in this story.

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          bloup
          Link Parent
          I meant to write "natural gas futures". I was referencing this quote. I am criticizing the reality that it's totally legal to bet against millions of people having stable power infrastructure by...

          I meant to write "natural gas futures".

          March futures for natural gas are selling for $3 per million BTUs in Oklahoma, he said, but the spot price hit $600 over the weekend.

          I was referencing this quote. I am criticizing the reality that it's totally legal to bet against millions of people having stable power infrastructure by hoarding a resource that is of critical import during times of disaster for profit, but plenty of places will throw you in jail if you tried to show up with a box truck full of generators in the wake of a disaster, selling them for double what you paid. And, even worse, the person who is literally hoarding natural gas, preventing people from actually accessing it, until the price is right, is usually a pretty well respected individual, meanwhile the "price gouger" is considered to be some kind of lowlife.

          Also, I don't think there is anything wrong with price naturally shifting to reflect the laws of supply and demand, and in fact, I think it's a useful feature. But, the bounty from the increased prices due to broader social strife (the brunt of which is entirely born by the common folk) being solely realized by the private owners of the means of production is a truly heinous thing.

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            I agree about the person with a truck full of generators. I doubt anyone is hoarding natural gas if they can possibly help it. This is probably close to a peak price, the price a speculator would...

            I agree about the person with a truck full of generators.

            I doubt anyone is hoarding natural gas if they can possibly help it. This is probably close to a peak price, the price a speculator would want to sell at if they possibly could. Most sellers probably aren't selling more because they are unable to, due to a lack of preparation. If they could, they would. It would be smart to make sure you can deliver natural gas when nobody else can.

            Possibly, someone might wait until tomorrow, if they think people will need it more tomorrow, but that's risky. A bunch of natural gas could come online tomorrow if someone else gets something working, and then the price might be lower? It's often hard to pick the peak exactly.

            But, possibly there's more to it that we don't know about. This is just based on economics 101 principles, and often things are more complicated.

            1 vote
            1. skybrian
              Link Parent
              Here's a story about someone profiting from this. Comstock Resources Inc. has been able to sell gas from its Haynesville Shale wells in East Texas and northern Louisiana at premium prices since...

              Here's a story about someone profiting from this.

              Comstock Resources Inc. has been able to sell gas from its Haynesville Shale wells in East Texas and northern Louisiana at premium prices since Thursday.

              “This week is like hitting the jackpot with some of these incredible prices,” Burns said. “Frankly, we were able to sell at super premium prices for a material amount of production.”

              Gas production has tumbled to a four-year low as a polar blast triggers blackouts across Texas and other central U.S. states, freezes liquids inside of pipes and forces wells to shut. Producers may take until March to fully restore supplies due to equipment damage, according to Charles Nevle, senior director for North American gas at IHS Markit.

              It seems like this is an example of being able to sell natural gas when other people can't. (Though, it might just be luck. The market rewards both the lucky and the competent.)

              1 vote
  5. spit-evil-olive-tips
    Link
    From 2011: Texplainer: Why Does Texas Have Its Own Power Grid?

    From 2011: Texplainer: Why Does Texas Have Its Own Power Grid?

    Texas' secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas.

    The Texas Interconnected System — which for a long time was actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern Texas and one for southern Texas — had another priority: staying out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. "Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s," writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article, "The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight Connection."

    6 votes
  6. skybrian
    Link
    Texas was "seconds and minutes" away from catastrophic monthslong blackouts, officials say

    Texas was "seconds and minutes" away from catastrophic monthslong blackouts, officials say

    “It needed to be addressed immediately," said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.”

    Grid operators had to act quickly to cut the amount of power distributed, Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”

    Magness said on Wednesday that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.

    6 votes
  7. [6]
    babypuncher
    Link
    I find the article a tad confusing. Where I live, my electric bill is much lower in the winter than in summer, because while my air conditioner is electric, my furnace runs on gas. Do they not use...

    I find the article a tad confusing. Where I live, my electric bill is much lower in the winter than in summer, because while my air conditioner is electric, my furnace runs on gas. Do they not use natural gas for heating in Texas?

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      I’ve seen reports that along with unprecedented demand, part of the problem is on the supply side, where some generators have frozen. Apparently there is some issue getting natural gas to some...

      I’ve seen reports that along with unprecedented demand, part of the problem is on the supply side, where some generators have frozen. Apparently there is some issue getting natural gas to some generators.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. skybrian
          Link Parent
          This article has a little more: How a bitter cold snap is crippling power in Texas [...] [...] [...] On the demand side, uninsulated houses are going to use increasing amounts electricity or...

          This article has a little more:
          How a bitter cold snap is crippling power in Texas

          Around 34 gigawatts of electricity generation has been forced off the state's main grid during the cold snap [...]

          [...]

          Surging demand for natural gas amid the Arctic blast is driving up prices and making fuel scarce, according to the grid operator. Gas utilities prioritize providing fuel for heating households ahead of selling it to gas-fired power plant.

          [...]

          Texas is also contending with reduced output from its many wind turbines as ice accumulates on blades during the cold, wet weather, grid operators added. [...]

          [...]

          Other power plant infrastructure is vulnerable to the cold, too, if fuel lines crack, water intake systems clog with ice or piles of coal literally freeze over, though it is still unclear what specific problems power plants in Texas are having.

          On the demand side, uninsulated houses are going to use increasing amounts electricity or natural gas as the temperature drops.

          5 votes
        2. skybrian
          Link Parent
          And a bit more from ArsTechnica: Competition for natural gas and frozen wind turbines are only some of the problems. [...]

          And a bit more from ArsTechnica:

          Competition for natural gas and frozen wind turbines are only some of the problems.

          While some early reports indicated that frozen wind turbines were causing significant shortfalls, 30GW is roughly equal to the entire state's wind capacity if every turbine is producing all the power it's rated for. Since wind in Texas generally tends to produce less during winter, there's no way that the grid operators would have planned for getting 30GW from wind generation; in fact, a chart at ERCOT indicates that wind is producing significantly more than forecast.

          [...]

          An ERCOT director told Bloomberg that problems were widespread across generating sources, including coal, natural gas, and even nuclear plants. In the past, severe cold has caused US supplies of natural gas to be constrained, as use in residential heating competes with its use in generating electricity. But that doesn't explain the shortfalls in coal and nuclear, and the ERCOT executive wasn't willing to speculate.

          5 votes
    2. [2]
      nukeman
      Link Parent
      Not Texan, but looking at temperature data, a decent portion (south/east of a line running Houston-Austin-San Antonio-Eagle Pass) rarely gets below 40 degrees, and thus older electric heat pumps...

      Not Texan, but looking at temperature data, a decent portion (south/east of a line running Houston-Austin-San Antonio-Eagle Pass) rarely gets below 40 degrees, and thus older electric heat pumps are sufficient for the majority of heating needs. Certainly there’s gas in at least parts of those areas, but why bother when electric lines are cheaper to build and maintain? My house in the South Carolina midlands is all-electric, and it routinely gets to freezing in the winter (but not much below it).

      1 vote
      1. babypuncher
        Link Parent
        I could see it not being worth running gas lines for cooking, laundry, and water heating if your furnace is not expected to get used more than a few weeks out of the year. My high efficiency...

        I could see it not being worth running gas lines for cooking, laundry, and water heating if your furnace is not expected to get used more than a few weeks out of the year. My high efficiency furnace still accounts for about 70% of my natural gas consumption over the course of a year despite only seeing real use for about 4 months or so.

        2 votes
  8. skybrian
    Link
    Mexico suffers another day of rolling blackouts due to storm

    Mexico suffers another day of rolling blackouts due to storm

    The announcement Tuesday marks the third day that winter storms in Texas have cut the supply of imported natural gas on which northern Mexico depends for generating much of its electricity. The export-oriented National Council of the Maquiladora Industry says as many as 1,600 hundred were shuttered due to the lack of power, throwing hundreds of thousands out of work.

    The council complains that authorities are announcing blackouts over Twitter with no warning or coordination. Much of the north remains without reliable power, and the rolling blackouts are spreading into central Mexico.

    3 votes
  9. Kuromantis
    Link
    If anyone here wants to see a regularly updated (also national) map of the outage, there's a website for that apparently.

    If anyone here wants to see a regularly updated (also national) map of the outage, there's a website for that apparently.

    2 votes
  10. [2]
    skybrian
    Link
    What went wrong with the Texas power grid? It doesn't really say, but here are a few hints: [...]

    What went wrong with the Texas power grid?

    It doesn't really say, but here are a few hints:

    Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state’s deregulated power system, which doesn’t provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.

    “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” said Hirs. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

    [...]

    With demand high and supplies short, wholesale electricity prices have spiked, and because of the nature of electric power contracts, those increases may be felt by consumers well after the region has thawed. Wholesale electricity sold are near the $9,000-per-megawatt hour maximum in power markets across the state Monday as the system struggled to meet demand, according to ERCOT.

    2 votes
    1. AugustusFerdinand
      Link Parent
      To provide counterpoints that are also included in the article: So take winterization measures that didn't go far enough to prevent failures in this extreme storm, add in fuel shortages to...

      To provide counterpoints that are also included in the article:

      Woodfin said ERCOT and generators followed best practices for winterization, but the severity of the weather was unprecedented — “well beyond the design parameters of an extreme Texas winter.” [...] Most of the power knocked offline came from thermal sources, Woodfin said, particularly natural gas.

      The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and natural gas in the state, said Monday afternoon that some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, were experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions, causing concern for employee safety and affecting production. As part of its statewide response, the commissioners issued an emergency order on Friday evening to manage shortages of natural gas, requiring gas to first be delivered to residences, hospitals, schools, churches and other locations that meet human needs, then to power plants and then to industrial users.

      So take winterization measures that didn't go far enough to prevent failures in this extreme storm, add in fuel shortages to generators and then reroute the already shorted fuel supply to homes instead of generators and you get cascading shortfalls in production leading to mass blackouts. I am curious what the effects of a fuel shortage, instead of power shortage/blackouts, to consumers would be...

      3 votes