Like overloaded circuits in your home, grid systems, such as ERCOT in Texas, will crash when the capacity of electricity does not match the amount of electricity that end-users are requiring. System operators must carefully schedule enough generation to match forecasted demand, based on weather predictions and historical data available. They also schedule back-up electricity based on information learned from past outages.
Unfortunately, historical data is proving less useful, so grid operators are starting to fail at their jobs. Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, together, broke 15 record lows between Feb. 13 and Feb. 16. Not only were there record lows, but the weather was widespread and long, affecting 14 states over multiple days. (Note: Increasing population increases demand, also.) Under these conditions, grid operators are shooting in the dark because demands on the grid system are unprecedented.
Texas faces additional challenges because their grid has not been required to withstand cold weather events. Power plants, like natural gas and coal, are vulnerable because pipes, valves, pressure gauges, and other equipment are left exposed. They lack exterior enclosures and heating mechanisms to keep equipment working. Even wind turbines in the southern states are not equipped to withstand ice and low temps as are ones in the north. The rhetoric placing blame on renewables is not only inaccurate, but it also hampers our ability to make the grid more resilient.
Future grid resiliency requires a broad understanding of the grid, including understanding that all forms of generation have reliability limits. Solutions to grid resilience may include upgrading cold-weather technology, maximizing solar installations which have no moving parts (making them ideal for cold weather), and expanding the use of home batteries. Grid resilience will require state and federal assistance to update transmission infrastructure. There is no room for state policy based on misinformation.
Sonya Kaye is a candidate for Cass County Electric Board of Directors.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.