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Analyses Last Updated: Feb 19, 2021 - 11:31:00 AM

What Went Wrong in Texas?
By Dr. Nasrullah Khan, Comsats, 18/2/21
Feb 19, 2021 - 11:30:02 AM

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Polar vortex 2021 created a confluence of gas, power and water crises. Climate change enhances peak intensity of natural disasters with superposition of events. Power and energy experts advise to winterize Texas Grid to avoid recurrence of similar outages in future.

Polar vortex in central United States caused bitter cold in second week of February 2021. Arctic ballast led to heat, power and water outages for millions of consumers. Texan utilities were aware of looming crisis yet no demand-response works when nature overwhelms manmade supply networks. Temperature fell down to 2C to 3C inside homes during heat and electricity crisis.


US Grid consists of eastern, western and Texas power grids.  Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages about 90% of Texas power island grid. Cold spell deprived 4.5 out of 26 million Texan consumers from gas and power supplies. Power shortages were created by failure of 15,000 MW wind farms and 30,000 MW gas and coal power plants. However, ERCOT reported power shortage of 34,000 MW. Utility had restored 25,000 MW power within 3-4 days yet rolling blackouts continued [Ryan 2021].
Natural gas supplies were affected by reduction of gas flow due to freezing gas pipelines. Gas power plants trip during shortage of natural gas supply. Failure of natural gas pipelines and electricity networks created heat and power crises. Several deaths happened by carbon monoxide when people tried to warm using fossil fuels. Water pipelines also freeze to cause confluence of gas, power and water crises.

Wind turbines have integrated deicing system yet cold spell reduces wind farms generation capacity. Icing reduces effective interaction of winds with blades. ERCOT sprayed salt on wind turbine blades to melt the ice yet 15,000 MW generation went offline. Ice deposits on conductors can cause outages.

Life in bitter cold and dark without heat, power and water is really very hard. Rooftop solar also fails to work during cloudy days. Hydrogen storage systems has come up as rescuer with three-days backup capacity during this crisis. No storage system can work when grid system fails.

Renewable energy is not responsible for Texas blackout in entirety as wind turbines caused 10% and fossil fuels plants 90% of shortage. A major dent on generation capacity was caused by gas and coal power plants. Gas supply fell down due to freezing of pipelines. Supply falls and demand rises during cold waves.
Texas crisis cannot be used to blame solar and wind systems due to their small share yet renewable energy systems are dependent on weather conditions Huge heaps of snow fall on solar panels block reflect the light and ice turbine blades which reduce efficiencies. We have to winterize solar, wind as well as natural gas supply systems to ensure continuity. Pipelines freeze during arctic blast impeding flow of gas, oil and water supplies. Coal and nuclear plants need steady water flow to operate [Pippa 2021].

Texas is a deregulated power grid that trades energy on supply and demand based market. It is an islanded grid that should have some back up from Eastern and Western Power Grids. Texas needs to install huge solar charged battery or hydrogen storage for reliable backup. ERCOT has done forecasting for various scenarios yet extreme weather events surpassed their maximum limits. Raise of reserves can mitigate crisis yet private sector never shoulder the costs. Private sector harvests windfall profits of price hike during rise in demand but does little for system reliability.

Wild West concept in Texas Grid is fine for short run prices during normal days but not good during natural disasters when gas and power prices increase more than 26% percent. Storage can help utility deal with peak power, frequency deviations and voltage collapse. Demand response principal works well in good weathers a voltage/frequency based integrated control works better in cold and heat waves.

America was sleeping in last half-decade when climate change came on crossroads. It is time to move ahead of global warming or cooling debates as climate change causes scorching heat during heat wave and bitter cold during cold waves. Good news is US system phoenix has arisen again.

America is back on climate, economic and scientific frontiers. Covid-19 cases falling sharply from 300,000 to 100,000 per day in last few weeks. Government asked Americans to wear mask for first 100 days. Incumbents cancelled Keystone XL pipeline and froze oil and gas explorations in Arctic to decelerate climate change. A new world “foreign and domestic enemies” emerged due to Trump’s discriminatory policies dividing the nation. World community takes a sigh of relief on end of racial politics in America. America, after four-year hiatus, resumes Obama era policies with new spirit and zeal. This is how the phoenix immolates to regenerate herself. American democratic system reflects phoenix as it has ability to arise out of chaotic times.

President Biden on day one signs orders to reverse Trump’s policies on energy, climate, racial equity, economy, immigration and coronavirus pandemic. American is back in Paris Accord and World Health Organization to lead the world on climate change and global health policies. Biden’s executive orders surpass Trump administration’s first day’s executive orders [Yuval 2021]. President Biden signs a slurry of executive orders and directives to reverse Trump’s decisions and Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and withdrawal from WHO as well as Paris Accord [Crystal 2021].

President Joe Biden has signed a series of executive orders to overturn President Donald Trump’s immigration policies to preserve and fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to end the so-called “Muslim ban,” and to stop construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The president also ordered an end to Trump’s travel ban that restricted entry into the U.S. from eight nations: Chad, Iran, Somalia, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen, a policy that the Biden White House called “rooted in religious animus and xenophobia.” [Brittany 2021].

"There's no time to start like today," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office as he began signing a stack of orders and memoranda. "I'm going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people." With the stroke of a pen, Biden has halted funding for the construction of Trump's border wall, reversed his travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and embraced progressive policies on the environment and diversity that Trump spent four years blocking. Biden also reversed several of Trump's attempts to withdraw from international agreements, beginning the process of rejoining the Paris climate accord and halting the United States' departure from the World Health Organization.
Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythologies considered phoenix a mythical bird which was reborn from the ashes of the flames of death. A phoenix is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates. She obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor as sun switches from hydrogen to helium in first cycle. She arises from dark into light to signify immortality of soul. America rises again to sew seams of broken threads. Business elites have started demanding Biden Administration to make rules on climate change to control GHG emissions.


Ryan WM, 'Massive failure': Why are millions of people in Texas still without power?, USA Today, 17 February 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/02/16/texas-weather-power-outage-rolling-blackouts-leave-millions-dark/6764764002/

Pippa S, How the Texas power grid failed and what could stop it from happening again, CNBC News, 17 February 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/17/how-the-texas-power-grid-failed-and-what-could-stop-it-from-happening-again.html

Yuval R, Biden Signs 17 Executive Actions on Day 1, With Promise of More to Come, Yahoo News, 21 January 2021. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/biden-signs-17-executive-actions-000142017.html

Crystal H, Biden signs executive orders reversing Trump decisions on COVID, climate change, Yahoo News, 21 January 2021. https://www.yahoo.com/news/biden-signs-executive-orders-reversing-trump-decisions-on-covid-climate-change-222432186.html

Brittany B, Biden Signs Executive Orders Ending Trump’s Travel Ban, Stopping Border Wall Construction, National Review, 21 January 2021. https://news.yahoo.com/biden-signs-executive-orders-ending-223320948.html

Source:Ocnus.net 2021

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