Just last year in Texas, temperatures fell with devastating results during Winter Storm Uri. A massive state-wide power outage that lasted days, resulting in 246 deaths, left thousands in the cold and uncertain about the state of the Texas power grid.
While winter temperatures have been cold, but not debilitating, there’s still cause for pause as Texans brace for an uncertain season. Folks are wondering how the electric grid will fare in the event of another big Texas chill and many would rather not be left in the dark about the future of their homes.
Let’s take a moment to size up the Texas power grid and dig our heels into what winter preparation should look like for your home in the harsh winters to come.
The State of the Texas Power Grid
ERCOT says the electric grid is ready for the winter and has been transparent with its weatherization preparation progress. Well, we sure hope so! Take a look for yourself at how they’re making sure the Texas power grid is prepared for another chilly winter.
However, many are skeptical that Texas isn’t able to maintain a supply of steady natural gas needed to stop another winter blackout in its tracks. This way of producing energy forces climate change and pollution to take over the world as we know it. Additionally, the antiquated system of natural gas facilities has consistently been failing to meet consumers needs at peak demand.
North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Robb says, “… the electricity ecosystem needs to come together to plan for and prepare to operate under more extreme, longer duration, and wide area weather events.”
Why Does Texas Have Its Own Power grid?
The Lone Star State was left to its own devices during the huge grid failure, partly because Texas is on an electrical island. Texas isn’t connected to the 120,000 miles of the North American power transmission grid, so nearby states couldn’t lend some electricity during the outages.
For those of you wondering, “Why does Texas have its own power grid?” The state has maintained its own power grids to remain independent from federal regulation. While this could be a good thing, it allows Texas power to operate outside of a capacity market. Wonder where those $9,000 electricity bills came from? When the demand increases, this system allows for skyrocketing electricity costs and certainly leaves Texans vulnerable to power outages when they need it the most.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) generates 90% of the state’s electrical power. The rest of Texas, El Paso, parts of East Texas, and the upper Panhandle, operate on much smaller grids.
Electricity Must Match Demand
The age-old rule of supply and demand dictates that the supply must always match the demand for a system to run in tiptop shape. That means that for as long as we need electricity to power our lives, utility companies must meet the need. In recent years, this seems like a feat easier said than done.
When ERCOT instituted rolling blackouts during the Big Freeze, the goal was to bring the supply and demand for electricity back into balance. Unfortunately, that meant many hospitals, businesses and residential homes were left in the dark and had to depend solely on backup power. The power plants that fuel the Texas power grid struggled to generate electricity. Studies revealed that natural gas production dropped by almost 45% because in the cold, they couldn’t access the natural gas.
According to the Texas Tribune, the culprit was poor winterization — the pipelines weren’t insulated. Is Texas better prepared this year?
Is the Texas Power Grid Really Ready for Winter?
Much of the power grid runs on exhaustible fossil fuels. This calls into question Texas power generators’ ability to maintain reliable sources of power when residents need it most. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Texas generates and utilizes more electricity than any other state. It has an abundance of natural resources readily available to fuel its power plants. And it shows. Texas burns more than 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. It’s a big state with big emissions to match its size, industrial production, and various sources of electric generation.
But what does that mean for its consumers? We know that extreme temperatures tend to go hand in hand with high electric bills. But how else do natural disasters like this one affect our daily world?
No Good, Just Bad and Ugly Results
Bad weather, and even weather catastrophes, are a long way from ceasing. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), “Research is still continuing in how warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are affecting ocean circulation and the jet stream, thus impacting weather in mid-latitudes.” Let’s take a gander at how a few days of a little cold weather can mess up the Texas power infrastructure in a big way.
Natural gas piping and wells are susceptible to freeze offs during particularly colder weather. This is especially true in typically warmer climates, where proper winterization is often forgotten. Freeze offs occur when high volumes of subterranean water that typically flow out of the ground alongside the fuel simply freeze. Ice can block gas flow. Liquid inside of wells, pipes and valves can become frozen. All of this impacts the ability of natural gas to get to the grid in order to power it.
Oil Industry Ripples
Another point for supply and demand. Just because Texas freezes doesn’t mean the rest of the world stops its demands. When the Texas oil production is halted by freeze offs, the rest of the nation feels the burden as well. Costs for oil and gas rise, but what’s interesting is that even the global oil market is affected. It’s reported that “almost 40% of the nation’s crude production” was out of commission when Texas experienced the Big Freeze.
A Maverick Redesign for the Texas Power Grid
In light of last year’s disaster, ERCOT has set into motion an electricity face lift. This two-phase redesign aims to increase the power reliability. It will also expand the existing energy infrastructure, as well as implement improved electricity market practices.
While this is certainly good news for big business accountability, it also means that Texans can expect more calls for their own personal energy conservation. A redesign could also mean good news for energy efficiency and battery storage opportunities. Hopefully, that means a low carbon power grid with accessibility for all in the future.
Prepare for the Cold With Solar
Don’t just take our word for it — Texas solar is making great strides. In 2020, Texas ranked #2 in solar installations. That’s enough to power almost 2 million Longhorn homes, but only actually generates power for a little over 2% of the state’s electricity. Texas has the capacity to soar with solar generation.
So, is the Texas power grid ready for winter? Well, we wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. While a hefty fine of $1,000,000 per day per violation might guarantee that the Texas energy infrastructure is ready for the chill, that doesn’t mean homeowners need to remain helpless this winter. Take the bull by the horn! Get in contact with a Solar Energy Specialist today, and find out what a solar energy system can do for you this winter.