Texas grid operator confirms gas, not wind, the biggest culprit in blackouts

An updated analysis of the Texas electricity crisis in February by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot) has revealed that lost wind power generation was only a very small component of the massive losses in electric generation that plunged much of Texas into blackout in February.

The report makes clear that the most significant cause of the power supply failure was from gas generators shutting down or reducing electricity production due to the cold weather, equipment failures, and gas shortages.

The slowly unveiling picture of the massive loss of electricity during the week of February 14 in Texas, which was caused by the impact of three severe winter storms sweeping across the United States, continues to put the lie to claims that renewable energy variability was to blame.

Ercot, which operates the Texas electrical grid, published a preliminary report in early April which suggested that power generation losses from wind were only slightly smaller than losses from natural gas generation. (See below).

However, that first preliminary analysis used the nameplate capacity of the state’s wind turbines to generate electricity, not the actual generation that would have been produced during the period of the outage.

The updated analysis, published on April 27, revises the role of wind in the energy mix based on “an estimate of the energy that would have been produced by wind and solar generation ‘but for’ the reported outages and derates.”

The resulting difference in analyses provides a stark contrast and reveals just how significant was the impact of gas on Texas power crisis and how minor the role played by wind. (See below).

Make no mistake, wind turbines were forced to stop generating electricity during the extreme weather conditions, as ice accumulated on turbine blades and temperatures plummeted below the exceedance of wind turbine temperature limits, while solar panels were covered by ice and snow.

However, the actual role of wind energy in the massive energy loss was relatively insignificant compared to the impact of gas generation failures.

The updated Ercot analysis shows gas outages were caused by disruptions in fuel supply to power plants, which accounted for 18% of total outages at 8am on February 16 – much more than initially reported.

Of course, weather related issues were the overwhelmingly primary cause of the crisis, causing generator outages due to the cold weather, frozen equipment, but even this shows just how poorly Texas was prepared for such an eventuality, the folly of isolating its electricity grid from the rest of the continental United States, and the blind ignorance of those who jumped immediately to blaming the whole crisis on renewable energy sources.

Joshua S. Hill is a Melbourne-based journalist who has been writing about climate change, clean technology, and electric vehicles for over 15 years. He has been reporting on electric vehicles and clean technologies for Renew Economy and The Driven since 2012. His preferred mode of transport is his feet.

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