Friday, February 4, 2011

Texas Power Blackouts and Green Energy

My brother David was in his Greenville Texas home, talking with me on the telephone when a rolling blackout cut off our conversation. When we resumed the conversation, David mentioned that not only were there rolling power outages all over texas, but that natural gas shortages were popping up around the state. The two problems, I realized, were connected. It should first be noted that Texas power usage on Febuary 2, 2011 was high but far below Texas peak summer electrical use standards. True it was a winter use record. The previous high of 55,878 megawatts was set Jan. 8, 2010. On even of February 2, 2011 a winter peak use record of 56,334 MW was set. The ERCOT had access to sufficient generation capacity and had a deep history of responding to peak winter electrical demand.

ERCOT admitted that
more than 50 power units, capable of generating about 7,000 MW, were out of service.
ERCOT reports focused on larger coal fired power plants
* Luminant's 568-MW Unit 4 at the Sandow coal-fired power plant in Texas shut on February 2 after a feed water flow low suction alarm. The alarm was triggered by a faulty feed water flow transmitter line that froze. Luminant expected the unit to return later on February 2.

* Texas Municipal Power Authority's 470-MW Gibbons Creek coal plant in Texas shut on February 1 after the cold weather stressed many systems, including electronic level indicators and their transmitters. Specifically, the company said the drum liquid level indicators had frozen. TMPA said it was using heaters to unfreeze the affected systems but did not say when the unit would return.
But the average size of the units that had stopped producing electricity, 140 MWs, suggested that they were natural gas burners. And a story in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram pointed to natural gas,
Atmos had curtailed its supply of natural gas to industrial customers, including natural-gas-fired power plants, he said. Atmos did exactly as its protocol called for, he said, to make sure that residential and commercial users had enough gas pressure.
Troy Fraser, The Chairman of the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee, Stated that
We didn't have enough gas pressure available to bring up the power plants, . . . In a high-volume usage, the first ones they cut off are the power plants.
Well that tells the story then. Some coal powered units shut down for reasons that were related to the effect of cold on equipment. Normally their backup would come from natural gas fired generators, but natural gas units were experiencing forced shutdowns too. But what about theTexas supplyb of renewable energy? According to the Lubock Avalanche Journal,
Wind generators apparently do not work as well when it is cold. There were enough areas in Texas on Tuesday where the night was clear and cold and the wind dropped, shutting down generating capacity apparently quite rapidly.
While wind generation of electricity was high during the hours of 5 AM to 7 AM on February 2, wind generator output had dropped by the time the blackout reached my brothers house. In addition the windmills are a long way away from the Texas cities where there were rolling blackouts, and 30% to 35% 0f the wind generated electricity generated was lost during its transmission to those cities. So if wind did not rescue Texas on Tuesday Morning, where did the state find help? According to the Dallas Morning News,
Mexico agreed to transmit 280 megawatts of electricity from the border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Piedras Negras, . . .
So renewables were of little help during the blackout, and natural gas, touted by renewable advocates as the the clean energy solution to the problem of renewable intermittent gaps in the electrical supply, turned out to be another weak link in the generation chain. Hence we had more proof, if we needed it, that renewable energy can't cut the mustard.


donb said...

On Rod Adams' blog:
Texas Nuclear Plants Working As Hard As Possible During Cold Spell
by Rod Adams
Normally, I am reluctant to simply reproduce a press release, but I figured you might be interested in this one.

From the Nuclear Energy Institute:

As Texas copes with rolling electricity blackouts and its coldest temperatures in decades, you should be aware that the state’s four nuclear power plants – which have a combined electric generating capacity of 4,800 megawatts – are operating at 100 percent capacity.

rms said...

I agree that renewables won't "cut the mustard". However, unstated by those advocates who know and ignored by those advocates who haven't figured it out (in my experience) is the understanding that security of service will go down but that it's "ok, because we all have to sacrifice in our goal to save the planet." The debate is on the "climate change crisis" and that we must "do something". No debate or understanding, of what the "do something" really means.

Charles Barton said...

rms, doing something effective about climate change means replacing fossil fuels with low cost nuclear energy.

charlesH said...

From the Nuclear Energy Institute:

As Texas copes with rolling electricity blackouts and its coldest temperatures in decades, you should be aware that the state’s four nuclear power plants – which have a combined electric generating capacity of 4,800 megawatts – are operating at 100 percent capacity.

Presser should have added "the states wind capacity is operating at xx%."

Michael Goggin said...

Hey guys, you may want to see what the CEO of the Texas grid operator had to say about the blackouts. ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett: “I'm not aware of any nuclear plant problems, and I'm not aware of any specific issues with wind turbines having to shut down due to icing. I would highlight that we put out a special word of thanks to the wind community because they did contribute significantly through this timeframe. Wind was blowing, and we had often 3,500 megawatts of wind generation during that morning peak, which certainly helped us in this situation."

That's right, wind was providing enough electricity to keep the lights on for about 3 million average homes. So what did cause the blackouts? Turns out it was 50 coal and gas power plants that broke down and took 7,000 MW of generation offline. Per the interview linked above:
"Question: On Wednesday, more than 50 plants went offline, ERCOT has said. Were they a few big coal plants plus mostly gas plants?

Doggett: They were a variety. That's a point I should make is that this was distributed across the state. It was multiple owners; it was multiple fuel technologies. So it wasn't limited specifically to coal. It included a number of gas units as well."

Another Michael said...

Wind power was not the problem or the solution on Feb. 2 in Texas. The blogger on the Lubbock newspaper site (not a reporter) doesn't actually cite any source for his claim that a large number of wind generators went out of service.

Wind power output was reasonably steady that morning, nuclear was essentially invariant (unable to contribute extra, but at least not a source of the problem), coal was part of the problem, and gas was both problem and part of the solution - many units underperformed but on the other hand as a group it eventually compensated for the loss of coal output and allowed the emergency to end.

Charles Barton said...

Another Michael, The Lubbock report of a drop in wind power now appears questionable, However several flaws of the wind system appear to have contributed to the problem, Rhe Texas wind generators were poorly located to provide electricity to to the Texas electrical consumers who were effected by the blackouts.
The Wind generated electrical supply was limited by the transmission system, The investment in Texas wind represented an opportunity loss for texas nuclear power, Two Texas Nuclear plants would have prevented the blackouts, while the equivalent amount of west Texas Wind power would not have prevented the blackouts.


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