Why Did Texas's Grid Fail?

This past week, Texas got hit with an unprecedented amount of snow, and extreme low temperatures which its infrastructure and electrical grid could not handle. The devastating winter storm swiftly crippled their coal generators, nuclear plants, natural gas plants and a few wind turbines.

Texas’s grid and infrastructure were not able to handle the low temperatures and were not prepared for a dramatic increase in electricity demand. There are several system failures that lead to this overall grid collapse.

The first major failure was caused by uninsulated natural gas pipes freezing forcing plants to shut down. Close to 46% of Texas’s overall energy production comes from natural gas alone. This could have been avoided entirely if their pipes were properly insulated for freezing temperatures.

Coal is another big source of energy in Texas, which makes up 18% of their total energy production. During the storm, coal pits froze over making it harder to fuel the generators and vastly limited production. With both coal and natural gas having failures that is close to 64% of Texas’s energy production gone.

Nuclear power plants also had to be shut down in fear of the extreme temperatures damaging critical components. However, nuclear energy only makes up about 11% of Texas’s energy production.

Lastly a third of wind turbines did fail due to the blades freezing over from not being weather proofed. Wind turbines make up around 23% of Texas’s overall energy production, and most of them remained online throughout the storm.

The drop in overall energy production and the increased demand in electricity forced utility companies to use rolling blackouts to conserve its energy supply. Close to 3.5 million Texans were without power for several days in below negative temperatures. The homes that kept power are likely to have been charged an exorbitantly high utility bill. During the winter storm, ERCOT’s cost per megawatt jumped close to $9,000 compared to its normal cost of around $35.

How Can Solar and Other Renewables Help?

While fossil fuels had major failures due to the unprecedented winter storm, renewable energies powered through. Texas only saw 1/3 of its wind turbines fail because of a lack of heating elements or weatherproofing. With the proper measures in place, turbines are able to withstand the extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

Solar has been proven to be reliable in harsh winter conditions and extreme temperatures. However, most solar systems are grid tied, meaning when the grid goes down your system will turn off for safety measures. This ensures that no electricity is sent back to the grid when utility workers are working on it.

If the solar system is paired with battery storage it will continue to power critical loads throughout rolling blackouts or outages. These critical loads can be anything from Wi-Fi modem, fridge, select outlets, lights, sump pump and etc. Depending on the battery size and the loads you have set up, you can expect the battery to last 10-16 hours before completely dead. If you add more batteries to the system you can have storage for the whole home or for a longer period of time.

While this scenario is way into the future, imagine if just 20-40% of the homes had solar and battery storage. The decrease in demand alone would have severely lessened the strain on the grid. In conjunction, homes overproducing energy would send that back to the grid to power other homes. If the modules were covered or the weather was poor, battery storage would continue to keep the home powered until the panels came back online.

This is the second grid failure within 3 years, these types of weather events do not appear to be going away. Prepare yourself for unprecedented and look to other energy solutions such as solar with storage to keep your home powered through storms.

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