Texas Nearly Went Dark Because Officials Misjudged Weather

At-a-Glance:

Texas came uncomfortably close to another round of rolling blackouts on the night of April 13 because grid operators misjudged the weather. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of the state’s grid, had counted on a mild cold front sweeping the state, lowering demand for power. It didn’t happen. As a result, demand on the grid was about 3,000 megawatts higher than anticipated. To learn more, read “Texas Nearly Went Dark Because Officials Misjudged Weather.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The forecasting error came as 25% of power generation was offline for seasonal repairs and served as a reminder of the vulnerability of Texas’s grid.
  • Texas has long taken a laissez-faire approach to its power grid, allowing market forces – rather than regulations – to ensure there’s enough power on hand to satisfy demand.
  • The market is designed to operate with thin reserve margins. Unless lawmakers intervene, weather will continue to beget volatility in the power grid.
  • The summer months will present another test for grid operators. Almost 75% of Texas is gripped by drought and more than 91% of the state is abnormally dry.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The latest close call in Texas shows there is an urgent need to adopt common-sense regulations that lead to grid reliability and ratepayer protection. While extreme weather was not to blame in this case, many believe climate change will make extreme and unpredictable weather more commonplace. There must be adequate, dispatchable power for unusual weather events, especially as global reliance on renewables continues to grow.

 

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California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts

At-a-Glance:

With summer’s heat approaching, California’s plan for avoiding a repeat of last year’s blackouts hinges on a humble savior – the battery. Giant versions of the same technology that powers smart phones and cars are being plugged into the state’s electrical grid at breakneck speed, with California set to add more battery capacity this year than all of China. To learn more, read “California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet. 

Key Takeaways:

  • By August, California will have 1,700 megawatts of new battery capacity – enough to power 1.3 million homes and, in theory, avert a grid emergency like that of 2020.
  • The state’s plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 may require installing 48.8 gigawatts of energy storage, according to a report by three state agencies – more than five times the output of all the grid-scale batteries currently operating worldwide.
  • But batteries do have two major limitations – time and cost. Most of the battery packs now available are designed to run for just four hours at a stretch. While that makes them a good fit for California, where electricity supplies can be strained in early summer evenings after solar power shuts  down, batteries would not have prevented the multi-day outage that paralyzed Texas in February. A battery can only operate for so long before it needs to recharge.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California’s current plan without thermal generation would require an investment of $309 billion between 2021 and 2045 to add another 1,624 GWh of battery storage and electricity generation cost would jump to a sky-high 128 $ / MWh. However,  with Power-to-Gas and thermal generation as long-term energy would save the state $176 billion between 2021 and 2045 and electricity generation cost would be $50 / MWh in 2045. More batteries without thermal generation is not affordable and is not enough to create a resilient or reliable grid.

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Texas Moves to Make Generators Winterize, Bar Future Griddys

At-a-Glance:

The Texas Senate passed a sweeping bill to overhaul the state’s electricity market following February’s historic blackouts by forcing power plants to winterize and barring the type of business model used by Griddy Energy. To learn more, read “Texas Moves to Make Generators Winterize, Bar Future Griddys.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The measure, which still needs approval by the state’s House of Representatives, would require the owners of all power generators, transmission lines, natural gas facilities and pipelines to protect their facilities against extreme weather or face a penalty of up to $1 million a day.
  • On March 30, the Texas house preliminarily approved its own package of bills designed to respond to the grid failure. They include a measure that would only require power plants and power line owners to weatherize.
  • Both House and Senate measures would ban power providers from offering electricity plans tied to the state’s volatile wholesale power market, a practice that resulted in exorbitant bills for customers during the energy crisis.
  • The Senate bill would change the way that electricity is priced during an emergency to protect utilities from sky-high bills and require renewable energy sources to have backup plans to provide power at critical periods by purchasing so-called ancillary services.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The Texas blackouts are an urgent indication that recommendations should be turned into common-sense regulation that leads to grid reliability and ratepayer protection. Regulators and system planners analyze energy use based on one event in ten years. The current planning process does not account for extreme weather conditions that happen once in a hundred years, such as the system that moved through Texas in February. As climate change progresses, such events are forecasted to become more frequent, and should be considered during planning.


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California Energy Officials Trying to Avoid Summer Blackouts

At-a-Glance:

State agencies and electric utilities are scrambling to shore up power supplies in hopes of avoiding the rolling blackouts that left 800,000 California homes and businesses without power during a record-breaking heat wave last August. To learn more, read California Energy Officials Trying to Avoid Summer Blackouts.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Gas-fired power plants could be called on more, instead of less. State regulators extended the life of outdated gas-fired power generators in Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, and Oxnard, all scheduled to shutdown at the end of 2020.
  • The state’s “Final Root Cause Analysis” found the rolling blackouts on Aug. 14 and 15 resulted from a combination of increased demand, inadequate supplies, a now-fixed software glitch, the export of power to out-of-state utilities, gas-fired plants unable to run at full capacity and out-of-state suppliers with no energy left to sell to California.
  • Considering long-term needs, the state Public Utilities Commission has called for 8,000 megawatts of new clean energy over the next four years – including 2,000 megawatts by this summer.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The current plan in California is to use more gas fire plants, but by adding flexible generation to the mix, California could follow the Optimal Path and reduce the need for battery storage to 158 GWh. This would help the state avoid overbuilding its renewable generation and battery storage infrastructure and cut solar and wind capacity requirements by 8 GW compared to renewables plus battery storage alone. California already has the natural gas infrastructure in place to follow the Optimal Path. The state’s existing gas storage capacity and distribution systems can easily provide the necessary 8 TWh of reliable, fully dispatchable renewable energy while using only 15 percent of existing underground gas storage capacity. This alleviates concerns around “stranded assets” since flexible generation plants can shift at any time to burn synthetic methane, even before 2045.

 

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Texas must increase ties to the national grid and DER to avoid another power catastrophe, analysts say

At-a-Glance:

Texans were left in the cold and dark this February, following extreme cold weather that had the Texas competitive energy market unable to prevent deadly power failures. Leaving behind its historic commitment to power system independence and joining the larger U.S. grid can relieve some of the consequences of extreme weather events Texas is likely to see again, many energy analysts in and out of Texas said. To learn more, read Texas must increase ties to the national grid and DER to avoid another power catastrophe, analysts say.”

Key Takeaways:

  • “We designed this system for Ozzie and Harriet weather and we now have Mad Max,” said Texas energy consultant Alison Silverstein.
  • Some customers discovered variable bill plans can come with price spikes.
  • “The theory is that a high price will bring investments, but people don’t invest in things that might only make money sometime in the future unless they are required to,” said Jussi Heikkinen, North America Director of Growth and Development for global power plant developer Wärtsilä.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Texas does not have firm rules on power plant engineering for ambient temp ranges. Recommendations from ERCOT were published after the 2011 blackouts, but they are not mandatory, like they are in the eastern part of the country The Texas blackouts are an urgent indication that recommendations should be turned into common-sense regulation that leads to grid reliability and ratepayer protection.

 

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Texas Blackout Hearings Highlight Intertwined Risks of Natural Gas, Power Grid and Deregulated Market

At-a-Glance:

The catastrophic breakdown of Texas’ natural gas and electric system the week of February 15 lacks a single villain to blame for it all. Instead, the widespread constraints in natural-gas supply and the shutdown of core power plant capacity that left millions without power can be chalked up to cascading failures between two interdependent systems – and any solutions will need to take these interdependencies into account to avert a similar crisis in the future. To learn more, read Texas Blackout Hearings Highlight Intertwined Risks of Natural Gas, Power Grid and Deregulated Market.”

Key Takeaways:

  • In a hearing held on February 25, power company executives pointed to natural-gas shortages for forcing more than half of the state’s winter peaking generation fleet to shut down. That loss of generation capacity forced state grid operator ERCOT to institute rolling blackouts to prevent a broader grid collapse.
  • The hearing saw disputes over whether failure to winterize the state’s natural-gas infrastructure was primarily to blame for the shortages, as opposed to a surge in demand for the fuel for both power generation and heating.
  • Underlying these technical failures are questions about the role of the state’s deregulated energy market structure.
    • ERCOT is the only major grid that operates outside the federal regulatory authority that sets maximum market prices.
    • For two decades, Texas’ energy markets have lacked the capacity and resource-adequacy constructs that other states and grid operators use to secure resources to cover rare but potentially disastrous imbalances between electricity supply and demand.
    • Instead, Texas relies on scarcity pricing of up to $9,000 per megawatt-hour during times of peak grid stress to incentive power plant owners to invest in resources to cover those emergencies.

Path to 100% Perspective:

In both Texas and California, the widespread blackouts reveal the need for updated policy, improved planning as well as technological and chronological power system expansion along with adequate modeling. Updated policy means including these renewable fuels and the plants that use them to count towards clean energy goals. As many believe climate change will make extreme weather events more common and even more unpredictable, state policymakers and regulators need to act now to decarbonize the electricity sector.

 

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Joe Biden wants 100% clean energy. Will California show that it’s possible?

At-a-Glance:

There are several economic and environmental arguments for the $1.9 billion Pacific Transmission Expansion. The undersea power line would run south from San Luis Obispo County, hugging the California coast for 200 miles before making landfall in or near Los Angeles. It would be able to carry electricity from a fleet of offshore wind turbines, providing Southern California with clean power after sundown and helping to replace fossil-fueled generators. Fewer planet-warming emissions, less risk of blackouts, and no chance of igniting the wildfires sometimes sparked by traditional power lines are among the cases being made for this project. To learn more, read Joe Biden wants 100% clean energy. Will California show that it’s possible?” Reading this article could require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Policymakers across the country are looking to California to show that it’s possible to phase out fossil fuels. State law mandates 100% clean energy by 2045 and, in 2019, nearly two-thirds of California’s electricity came from climate-friendly sources.
  • As demonstrated by summer 2020’s rolling blackouts, there’s a clear longer-term need for clean energy sources that can be relied on when electricity demand is high and there’s not enough sunlight to go around.
  • The Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a proposal that made its 2030 target to reduce emissions from power plants by 25% the basis for approving or rejecting new transmission lines, which is crucial for connecting renewable-energy facilities with cities that consume large amounts of electricity.
  • Climate advocates are urging Governor Newsom to play a more active role in utility infrastructure decisions to ensure the state is prepared to meet its clean energy targets.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California is a clean energy leader and state-level renewable energy infrastructure decisions made now will likely influence similar decisions across the country. State-of-the-art power-system modeling reveals that California can reach its renewable energy and emissions targets faster by utilizing flexible thermal generation. Flexible thermal generation assets can be converted as needed to use carbon-neutral fuels produced with excess wind and solar energy through power-to-gas technology, forming a large, distributed, long-term energy storage system. Such a system can provide a reliable source of electricity in cases of extreme or variable weather.

 

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The Texas Polar Vortex Resurrects the Decarbonized Grid’s Fuel Diversity Question

At-a-Glance:

This article is not about which generating technologies caused the blackouts experienced in Texas and states across the Midwest this week. However, these events can get us thinking about where the industry goes from here. First, the U.S. natural-gas supply network was stressed by record demand and prices. The record-high gas demand would have been even higher without the rolling blackouts that were imposed because more homes with central heat would have run either gas-fired heaters or electric heat pumps, which would have been powered mostly by coal- or gas-fired generators if those weren’t impacted by outages. To learn more, read The Texas Polar Vortex Resurrects the Decarbonized Grid’s Fuel Diversity Question.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The nine days between February 9 – 17 seem to highlight a fuel-diversity dilemma for U.S. decarbonization targets and policies. Coal and natural gas comprised 65% of the power generation mix, 30% and 35% respectively, while utility-scale wind and solar only provided 6%.
    • Many utility integrated resource plans seek to quickly replace coal plants with new, or existing but underutilized, natural-gas plants as “bridge fuel,” while adding large amounts of wind and solar over the next five to 20 years.
  • An increase in natural-gas usage during a repeat polar vortex event would likely lead to more grid reliability problems. There are two options to prevent this:
    • Expand U.S. natural gas supply/network to support even higher send-out for an extended cold snap.
    • Build enough renewable energy sources to offset the loss of coal generation and prevent increased natural gas demand during an extended cold snap.
  • Wood Mackenzie’s latest Long-Term Outlook forecasts the U.S. adding over 1,300 GW of new combined wind and solar capacity by 2050 to reach 85% decarbonization, plus over 400 GW of battery storage.
    • The system would still require some backup natural-gas generation for periods of low renewable energy output.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Power systems won’t decarbonize overnight. The pathway toward a 100% renewable power system will be a phased transformation, leveraging different mixes of technologies and fuels at different steps along the path. Power-to-gas technology is one approach that can ease the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, while providing a long-term energy storage solution that ensures a reliable and secure supply of electricity during periods of extreme weather.

 

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Biden Official Says Texas Storm Shows Infrastructure Need

At-a-Glance:

The Biden administration said it will work with states and businesses to make infrastructure more resilient after a winter storm led to widespread power outages in Texas. To learn more, read Biden Official Says Texas Storm Shows Infrastructure Need.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • President Joe Biden received multiple updates a day on the federal response to the storm that caused power disruptions and prompted rolling blackouts, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
  • In Texas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided 60 generators, 729,000 liters of water, 10,000 wool blankets and 225,000 meals.
  • By late Thursday morning, February 18, the number of customers without power was down to about 500,000 from more than 4 million two days earlier, according to PowerOutage.us.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The Texas blackouts have been linked to lack of winterization and adequate natural gas supply. Regulators and system planners analyze energy use based on one event in ten years, which determines the need for generation capacity and the required reserve margin. This planning process does not account for extreme, once-in-hundred-years weather conditions like the system that moved through Texas. As climate change progresses, events such as the recent Texas blackouts are forecasted to become more frequent and should be accounted for during planning.

 

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Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities

At-a-Glance:

In California, wildfires and heat waves in recent years forced utilities to shut off power to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that deadly winter storms and intense cold can do the same. To learn more, read Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that power plants can be strained and knocked offline by the kind of extreme cold and hot weather that climate scientists have said will become more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.
  • The electricity industry typically looks at average annual temperatures rather than seasonal ones. Changing the distribution of power sources based on the seasonal temperatures could help avoid electricity shortages.
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas could take a cue from states in colder climates and winterize its power plants and other equipment to prevent future weather-related power failures.
  • That Texas and California have been hardest hit makes clear that simplistic ideological explanations are often wrong. Texas, for example, has relied on market forces to balance its electric grid.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The impacts of climate change and extreme weather are not limited to Texas and California. All states can take steps to ensure their power and natural gas systems can handle the full range of temperatures that climate analysts forecast; winterization is just one example. States should also explore long-term energy storage solutions, such as thermal generation.

 

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3 graphs that shed light on the ERCOT power crisis

At-a-Glance:

As work continued to restore electric power across the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region, data firm Lium released a series of graphs that offer early insight into the state’s grid performance in the days before the blackouts and immediately after. To learn more, read 3 graphs that shed light on the ERCOT power crisis.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Wind generation progressively slowed and ended up down around 8 GW compared with the prior week.
  • Natural gas generation was suffering shortfalls as well, with a “big crash” in early hours of Monday February 15.
  • Lium concluded that the ERCOT shortfall could have been met had natural gas, coal, and nuclear all been operating at peak summer levels (+9 GW) and if wind were operating at its typical February rate (+ 8 GW).

Path to 100% Perspective:

The recent Texas blackouts demonstrate the importance of having reliable sources of power in the event of extreme weather and natural disasters. Liquid fuels can be stored in large quantities at power plant sites for occasions when gas pressure is too low. In the future, these back-up fuels can be carbon-neutral methanol or ammonia, offering long-term, carbon-free, on-site energy storage. Excess electricity from periods of oversupply of solar and wind energy can be used to produce such renewable fuels locally in Texas.

 

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Renewables alone won’t satisfy California’s clean energy ambitions

At-a-Glance:

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) would provide California with 15 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to meet its goal of a carbon-neutral economy in 2045, and it would save the state $750 million in costs for solar generation and grid-scale batteries, according to a new study. The report was released in October by the non-profit Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) and Stanford University. According to the report, 20 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted by 76 large industrial and power-generating emitters in California, could be extracted and stored underground at a profit. To learn more, read “Renewables alone won’t satisfy California’s clean energy ambitions.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Clean firm power available whenever needed and most likely to come from natural gas, is necessary to smooth out the peaks and valleys that are inherent to wind, solar, and hydroelectric generation, according to EFI.
  • Transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. The need for clean firm power will surge in concert with the growth of electric vehicles as the state moves to phase out gasoline-fueled cars by 2035.
  • Industry in California is a larger source of emissions than the power sector today, and it has few options available to reduce CO2 apart from CCS. Cement production, for example, requires high temperatures, but only 40 percent of its emissions are from combustion; a larger fraction is process related.
  • A federal tax credit known as 45Q offers $22 per ton of CO2 that is captured and used for enhanced oil recovery or other end uses, increasing to $35 in 2026 and adjusted for inflation thereafter. The credit is $34 per ton, increasing to $50, for CO2 that is captured and injected to geologic storage.
  • The research found that ethanol plants, hydrogen producers, and refineries in the state could capture and store CO2 profitably with existing incentives.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The record breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State this summer, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation and meet clean power mandates. The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved. The “Optimal Path“ includes using power-to-gas (PtG) along with existing and future renewable energy.

 

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