Greeners Explain Texas Power Problems
[Bloomberg Green] The control room of the Texas electric grid is dominated by a Cineplex-sized screen along one wall. As outdoor temperatures plunged to arctic levels around the low-slung building 30 miles from Austin last Sunday night, all eyes were on it.

Electric demand for heat across the state was soaring, as expected, but green dots on the corner state map started flipping to red. Each was a regional power generator, and they were spontaneously shutting down — three coal plants followed quickly by a gas plant in Corpus Christi.
Maybe electric heat was driving demand? Gas furnaces don't take a lot of power to blow the hot air. But coal and gas aren't 'green'.
Then another metric began to flash: frequency, a measure of electricity flow on the grid. The 60 hertz needed for stability fell to 59.93.
I believe some 'Burgers know a lot more about electric power than I, a modest civil engineer. Hey now!
Bill Magness, chief executive officer of the grid operator, was watching intently and understood instantly what was at stake. Below 59 and the state’s electrical system would face cascading blackouts that would take weeks or months to restore. In India in 2012, 700 million people were plunged into darkness in such a moment.
That's even more impressive than the 1965 Great Northeast Blackout.
Texas was "seconds and minutes" from such a catastrophe, Magness recalled. It shouldn’t have been happening. After the winter blackouts of 2011, plants should have protected themselves against such low temperatures.
Skipping right over 'who pays and how much' we move right into market-bashing.
The basis of the Texas system is the market — demand soars, you make money. Demand was soaring last Sunday, but the plants were shutting down.
Lemmee see - does that suggest demand was exceeding supply, like in California?
If insufficient power came in, the grid wouldn’t be able to support the energy demand from customers and the other power plants that supply them, causing a cycle of violence dysfunction. So over the following hours, Magness ordered the largest forced power outage in U.S. history.
Citation needed.
More than 2,000 miles away in San Juan, Puerto Rico, power trader Adam Sinn had been sitting at his computer watching the frequency chart plummet in real time. He knew the dip would be enough to start forcing power plants offline, potentially causing more widespread blackouts. It was an unprecedented situation but, from his perspective, entirely avoidable.
No curiosity about what makes the frequency fall, and why that causes plants to shut down. A missed opportunity for teaching!
In fact, it was a crisis years in the making. Texas’s power grid is famously independent — and insular. Its self-contained grid is powered almost entirely in-state with limited import ability, thereby allowing the system to avoid federal oversight.
You say that like it's a bad thing.
It’s also an energy-only market, meaning the grid relies on price signals from extreme power prices to spur investments in new power plants, batteries and other supplies.
Encourage investments to make money? What a concept!
There is no way to contract power supply to meet the highest demand periods, something known as a capacity market on other grids.
What, no load shedding, no rolling blackouts, like California?
There are no mandates or penalties compelling generators to make supply available when it’s needed, or to cold-proof their equipment for storms like the one that slammed Texas last weekend.
Except paying for the repairs, and the media scorn.
So, as the cold began shutting in natural gas supplies, freezing instruments at power plants and icing over wind turbines, there wasn’t enough back-up generation available to meet demand.
How come a power plant can't make enough electricty to keep its' instruments warm?
As many as 5 million homes or as little as a half a million and businesses were abruptly thrust into frigid darkness for nearly four straight days as the crisis continued, ensnaring more than a dozen other states as far as away as California and roiling commodity markets across the globe.
30 hours for me, three hours for my son in Austin.
By Saturday, a considerable amount of capacity was already offline, some of it for routine maintenance and some of it due to weather. This is because in Texas peak demand is associated with summer heat so many plants do routine maintenance in winter.
Gov. Abbott ordered the restart of an off-line nuke in south Texas to help.
Wind was the first to go, as dense fog settled over turbine fleets, freezing on contact. The slow build-up of moisture over several days caused some of the blades to ice over, which is bad why? Unbalanced? while connection lines began to droop under the weight of the ice until power production from some wind farms completely ceased. But because the resource makes up a minor share of Texas’s wintertime power mix, grid operators didn’t view it as a big problem because wind is green. Then gas generation began declining. That was inconvenient, but not unmanageable. There was still plenty of supply on the system.

Across the state, power plant owners started seeing instruments on their lines freezing and causing their plants to go down. In some cases, well shut-ins in West Texas caused gas supplies to dip, reducing pressure at gas plants and forcing them offline. At that point, virtually all of the generation falling off the grid came from coal or gas plants.
What a coincidence! But wind and solar couldn't carry the load.
In the span of 30 minutes, 2.6 gigawatts of capacity had disappeared from Texas’s power grid, enough to power half a million homes.
I thought you said five million a few minutes ago?
The generation outages were causing frequency to fall — as much as 0.5 hertz in a half-hour. "Then we started to see lots of generation come off," Magness said.

To stem the plunge, operators would have to start "shedding load." All at once, control room staff began calling transmission operators across the state, ordering them to start cutting power to their customers.
But a few paragraphs before, you said, "There is no way to contract power supply to meet the highest demand periods".
"As we shed load and the frequency continued to decline, we ordered another block of load shed and the frequency declined further, and we ordered another block of load shed," said Woodfin, who slept in his office through the crisis.

Operators removed 10 gigawatts of demand from 1:30 a.m. until 2:30 a.m., essentially cutting power to 2 million homes in one fell swoop.
I woke up at 2:20 am, when my CPAP stopped pressurizing my sinuses.
The power cuts worked — at least in so far as Ercot managed to keep demand below rapidly falling supply.

Power supplies became so scarce that what were supposed to be "rolling" blackouts ended up lasting for days at a time, leaving millions of Texans without lights, heat and, eventually without water.
Apparently, some water treatment plants got their electricity cut, and got shut down. Sometimes that meant low or no water pressure, and/or a boil water order. We were asked to conserve natural gas for several days, as well.
By Friday, when Ercot declared that the emergency had ended, 14.4 million still lacked reliable access to public water supplies, and the crisis had already cost the state $50 billion in damages, according to Accuweather.
Worse than Hurricane Harvey (2017) say some pundits, but that's $125 billion.
Posted by: Bobby 2021-02-21