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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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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Wärtsilä to supply and maintain two major interconnected energy storage systems for Texas grid services

At-a-Glance:

Two standalone battery energy storage systems (BESS) totalling 200MW of output will be deployed in Texas’ ERCOT market by the energy division at Wärtsilä Corporation. Finland-headquartered marine and power systems technology manufacturer, which has become one of the biggest system integrators for energy storage in the US market, said today that it has been awarded contracts for the two projects in Southern Texas by developer Able Grid Energy Solutions.To learn more, read, “Texas’ grid to get 200MW of battery storage from Wärtsilä”,“Wärtsilä to supply two major interconnected energy storage systems for Texas grid services”,and“Wärtsilä wins order for utility-scale energy storage to support Texas electric grid.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Wärtsilä Energy will supply its recently-launched GridSolv Quantum advanced energy storage solution to both sites, as well as the company’s GEMS energy management software and controls platform.
  • The systems, called Ignacio and Madero, are thought to be around 100MW each, equalling the US state’s largest battery storage project under construction so far, the 100MW Chisholm Grid BESS which is also an Able Grid project.
  • “Able Grid selected Wärtsilä technology, among other considerations, for its critical safety and cyber-security features. The system complies with all applicable standards, like UL9540A, to ensure sustained safe and reliable operations. In addition, the GEMS Power Plant Controller is U.S.-code based and meets all IEC62443 cybersecurity standards,” commented Sharon Greenberg, Able Grid Chief Operating Officer.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Storage technologies will be essential to maintaining stability in the power grid as the world shifts from power systems based on fossil fuels to renewables and carbon-free and carbon-neutral fuels. Batteries will provide ideal solutions to keep the lights on during normal / average weather, while unusual and extreme weather events such as those recently experienced in California and Texas will require integrated long-term storage solutions that ensure security of supply in the face of seasonal and weather-related variability. Flexible generation power plants are also part of the solution as they can operate on carbon-free and carbon-neutral fuels and can provide the essential firm power component to our power systems of the future.

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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Deregulation Is Not The Central Culprit For Texas’ Electricity Crisis

At-a-Glance:

The $1 billion class-action lawsuit filed against the Texas wholesale electricity retailer Griddy Energy is triggering questions about who is to blame for the state’s mid-winter blackout. The core question, though, is whether restructuring Texas’ electricity markets in the early 2000’s exacerbated the crisis. To learn more, read Deregulation Is Not The Central Culprit For Texas’ Electricity Crisis.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  •  Since 2002, consumers could choose their retail electric provider, which purchases its power from competing generators. Millions of Texas’ customers chose competitive suppliers. Others opted for the regulated rate.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that customers in Texas who selected the competitive plans paid 13% more than the national average between 2004 and 2019. Customers choosing the regulated plan, conversely, paid 8% less during that same time frame.
  • Customers choosing competitive suppliers will in theory make their homes more energy-efficient and use demand response signals to reduce their bills. In the case of the Texas blackouts, however, the price spikes lasted for days and prompted the $9,000 per megawatt-hour regulatory limit.
  •  As renewables start to make up a greater share of the electricity portfolio, greater attention will need to be paid to improving energy efficiency and decentralizing electricity production and delivery systems.
  • Greater resiliency will also need to be built into the power grid, given the intermittent nature of wind and solar, including weatherizing every form of energy generation and delivery so that whole supply chains don’t freeze up.

Path to 100% Perspective:

There must be adequate, dispatchable power for unusual weather events, especially as global reliance on renewables continues to grow. The ideal power system of the future will maintain reliability while continuing to make a decarbonized future a reality by utilizing curtailed solar and wind power to produce future fuels such as green hydrogen, ammonia or carbon-neutral methane to power on-demand power generation. As the energy transition continues, power plants must be able to balance and respond to the grid to produce power during periods when the renewable generation does not match the load – during the winter and unusual weather conditions such as heat waves.

 

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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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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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Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized

Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth & Development, Americas
Wärtsilä Energy Business

These are exciting times as the renewable energy future is a focus for so many organizations and governments around the world, as indicated by attendance of the Wärtsilä sponsored webcast hosted by GreenBiz on November 19, 2020, Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized. Emerging technologies are moving closer to reality, which makes ambitious energy goals more realistic and the path to 100 percent renewable energy is now within reach.

A place where the transition to renewables has progressed quite far already is California. The lessons learned along the way have been plentiful, but powerful nonetheless. The record-breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation during the transition, and to 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.

That’s why Wärtsilä launched its Path to 100% initiative. We believe a 100% renewable energy future is possible, practical and financially viable so we assembled a community of experts to produce solutions based on science and engineering. This fall, we published a white paper that describes the Optimal Path to decarbonization for California using new hourly load data provided by this summer’s extreme heatwave.

In the whitepaper, Path to 100% Renewables for California, we modelled an approach for  California to reach its climate and clean power goals faster, at a lower cost to ratepayers, all while maintaining system reliability.

The “Optimal Path“ includes renewable carbon neutral fuels – hydrogen and synthetic methane. Curtailed renewable electricity is used in the process with water to produce hydrogen, and carbon is captured from air to produce synthetic methane with hydrogen. These fuels are used in power plants to provide a long term energy storage for seasonal and weather management needs. In the Optimal Path scenario, Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) commitments would actually be reached by 2040, five years ahead of schedule.

Generation costs in the “Optimal Path” scenarios are between 50 and 54 dollars per megawatt hour in 2045, while these costs would be almost 3 times higher if California opted to use only solar, wind and storage to build the power system. This cost difference is excessive and not beneficial for industries or households to pay. Additionally, carbon emissions are at net zero in 2045 in both scenarios.

How can California get on the Optimal Path to a renewable energy future? One recommendation is to recognize carbon neutral fuels – as presented above – to be counted as renewable for RPS purposes. This would enable the utilities to start looking for ways to invest and use such fuels to the benefit of California.

Another state aggressively pursuing renewable energy goals is Texas. Co-presenter and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Principal of Market Design and Development, Kenneth Ragsdale shared the Lone Star State’s progress on integrating renewables into the power system.

Climate Imperative’s Executive Director, Bruce Nilles offered a big picture perspective on electricity generation capacity and the commitments needed to accelerate decarbonization.

To watch the recorded presentations from Wärtsilä, ERCOT as well as Climate Imperative and download presentation materials, register today for the Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized webcast.